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Photo by Gene Lester 

Ira Smith with photographs of some of the presidents under whom he served. 









[An abbreviated version of this book 
was serialized in The Saturday Eve 
ning Post under the title of My 
Fifty Years In The White House.] 


To MY efficient and loyal staff of assistants 
who helped me to whatever success I 
achieved in the office of Chief of Mails. 

SCT 5 1949 

"Dear Mr. President . . ?' 



* book. For fifty-one years and three months I worked at 
the White House and thus I had a chance to see from that 
vantage point the development of our nation for about one- 
third of its actual history. It was a grand experience. 

But I am not a historian, and I want to make one thing 
clear: This book is not a historical document about the 
White House and its occupants. If it is the history of great 
events that you're looking for, you'd save yourself a lot of 
effort by going fishing instead of reading this. You might 
have more fun, too. 

My purpose in writing this book is to put down, while I still 
remember, some of my impressions of and reactions to events 
and people associated with the White House during the first 
half of the twentieth century. My connection with great 
events was too fragmentary to be of historical value. The 
history I will leave to the Jim Farleys, the Harold Ickeses and 
others whose advice was solicited by the Presidents. 

I guess I always had my own ideas on how to run the 
Government, but since I wasn't asked for advice, I didn't 
give any. Good thing, too, because I was sure wrong a lot of 

Ira R. T. Smith 
March, 1949 
Santa Barbara, California 



- - President's mail, and let me tell you right now that even 
after youVe opened a million letters addressed to somebody 
else you can still be curious about what's inside the next 
sealed envelope. 

It's human nature, I suppose, to wonder what is in the 
other fellow's mail, especially if the other fellow happens to 
be the President of the United States. I have as much curios 
ity as the next one, but opening the White House mail just 
happened to be my job. It started out almost by chance as a 
part of the day's work back in the McKinley administration, 
but it grew into a career that meant a lot of excitement, some 
fun, and many headaches during the next half century. 

You might as well know at the beginning that whenever 
you or many thousands of your fellow Americans sat down 
and wrote a friendly or an indignant or a worried letter to 
your President, it came to me instead of him. I or my assist 
ants opened it, read it, and directed it toward either a suitable 
answer or the dark recesses of a filing cabinet. And from the 
days of" President McKinley to the fourth year of President 

"Dear Mr. President . . ." 

Truman's administration, I opened a lot of letters that you 
wouldn't believe unless you saw them. 

I guess that it is a natural result of our system of govern 
ment that every citizen as well as quite a few who aren't 
citizens feels perfectly free to write to the President about 
his troubles or about his ideas of how the administration 
ought to be run. At least a great many do write such letters, 
and a few examples of what comes in the White House mail 
in addition to routine communications may give some idea 
of the problems presented. 

A letter from a war veteran who wants help in finding a trunk 
that has been lost somewhere between Chicago and California. 
We found it 

A letter from a war widow seeking a pension and enclosing a 
sample of the ashes of her husband to prove he is dead. A clerk 
inadvertently opened it in front of an electric fan, and the evi 
dence vanished. 

A letter from a man who had written to the President on a 
political question, enclosing a stamp for reply, and had received 
his answer in a franked envelope. He angrily demands return 
of his stamp and that the President restore to the Government 
thousands of dollars which, he feels certain, have been "filched" 
in this manner. 

A letter from a man in Iowa who for twenty-five years wrote 
regularly to the President demanding that his new method of 
scoring baseball games be universally adopted. 

A letter, with money enclosed, requesting the President to grant 
a divorce. 

Letters addressed to "The Onuble President/' "The Great 
Promisor," "Calvin Coolidge-urgent-hasten-fly," "Too deer 
President," "Frankie Rassie Velt," "His Majesty of USA, Comrade 
and Buddy," "Pft-Phooy~Pres. Roosevelt," or "Mr. Presadene 
FraHine Rodserveet if name spells wrong, please excuse," Many 


"Dear Mr. President . . ." 

letters had no address other than a drawing of the President, and 
some were envelopes on which was written something like "May 
Jesus place this letter in the President's hands personally.** 

The gifts coming to the President covered an incredible 
range. A coyote sent to Teddy Roosevelt terrorized the 
White House offices when it escaped from its crate, but it 
turned out to be playful as a puppy. Other gifts that stick in 
my memory included two Nubian lions from Ethiopia, a large 
Alaskan eagle, alive and in such a combative mood that he 
struck at everybody who approached his cage; numerous 
horned toads; a Puerto Rican cow and calf for "the White 
House dairy'*; a grain of rice with selections from the Koran 
written on it, which was lost when the package was opened 
and never recovered. 

These, of course, are merely samples of the many thou 
sands of things that come in the President's mail, but they 
give some idea of the tremendous problem the post office, as 
well as freight and express carriage, lays on the White House 
doorstep every day. It is both a heart-rending and an encour 
aging problem, because it presents a cross-section view of 
what is happening in our country, of how the people feel 
about things in general, and of their affection for or bitter 
ness toward the Chief Executive. Almost every President 
has been deeply moved in times of great stress by the under 
standing and sympathetic letters that come from the little 
people, especially when they tell him of their personal 

Very few of them stop to think that the President cannot 
read even a small percentage of these letters if he intends to 

"Dear Mr. President . . . 

devote ai^y of his time to the business of running the Govern 
ment. They merely write the letters, put them in envelopes 
addressed to the White House, and drop them in the mailbox 
with implicit faith in the ability of the United States Post 
Office to deliver them to the man in whom they put their 
trust I think I ought to say that, over the years, that trust 
has been fulfilled pretty wellnot, of course, by the Presi 
dent himself, except in comparatively few cases, but as a 
result of the system set up to handle the White House mail 
as efficiently and as humanly as possible. 

This system is not as involved as it might seem to the out 
sider, although in recent years it has required a large staff 
in the White House mail room itself. Basically, however, it 
is a distribution system designed to forward the letters to the 
government departments or bureaus that are especially 
equipped to handle each category. In other words, most 
people write to the President about problems that should be 
handled by the Department of Agriculture or the Bureau of 
Standards or the Patent Office or some similar branch of the 
Government. The work of the mail-room staff involves re 
cording the receipt of such letters and forwarding them to 
the proper department for answers. 

But in a place like the White House this job is a great deal 
more than mere routine, because nobody ever knows when 
a trucHoad of mail dumped on the doorstep will contain 
highly explosive matter either a political bomb that must 
be handled with special care and an eye to the next election, 
or an actual bomb that must be turned over to the Secret 
Service. Either kind can cause a lot of trouble. 

"Dear Mr. President . . /' 

The political explosive, of course, is the most frequent, and 
I always had to keep my mind, and the minds of my staff, 
attuned to the latest ripples and currents of political develop 
ments in order to avoid missing the implications of what 
might look like an unimportant or routine letter but actually 
could turn out to be filled with political dynamite. It wasn't 
so difficult to know where to send letters for the proper 
answers as it was to decide which letters should be kept 
usually for political purposes at the White House for the 
personal attention of the President or his secretaries. 

A mistake in connection with such letters might mean an 
affront to an important political personage, and a President 
can afford very few affronts to important politicians if he 
intends to keep on being President. I'll explain later how an 
unfortunate incident that was really nobody's fault had 
political repercussions all over the country during the early 

I had to make the decisions, and that is one reason why 
I always felt that the President of the United States and I 
were leading double lives. We had to if we were going to last 
very long in our White House jobs. During working hours, I 
put myself in the President's shoes and saw that every letter 
he received was sent to the right place for an answer. I made 
some mistakes, I suppose, but so did most of our Presidents, 
and I outlasted eight of them at the game. Maybe that was 
largely due to the fact that I didn't have to play the game all 
the time. In my off hours, I could go to the races or take my 
fishing boat down the Potomac or play a little poker, and be 

"Dear Mr. President . . " 

It was a lot tougher on the President He had to have two 
distinct personalities one for the public and one that was 
seen only when he relaxed with close personal friends or 
associates inside the walls of the White House. Sometimes 
that was quite a strain on everybody. Surprising sometimes, 

There was Teddy Roosevelt, for instance. Mr. Roosevelt 
was a dominating, razzle-dazzle leader in public life, but he 
became as meek as a lamb when he joined his uninhibited 
family circle after a hard day of trust-busting at the office. 

Woodrow Wilson was an incomparable logician, and a 
student of such broad vision that he often stumbled over the 
little facts of practical politics, but in private he liked to 
crouch at his old-fashioned typewriter and transcribe his own 
shorthand notes as if he were a $2400-a-year clerk. 

Calvin Coolidge appeared to the voters as a shrewd, un 
ruffled New Englander who kept government waste down and 
business profits up, but at home he rambled restlessly from 
cellar to attic fussing with petty details, and sometimes 
seething with suppressed irritability when he found some 
thing wrong. 

Franklin D. Roosevelt in private was perhaps more like 
his public self than any other President I knew, because he 
never failed to present himself as the leading actor on what 
ever stage was available at the moment. He could make a 
grand gesture for the most lowly typist with as much en 
thusiasm as he gave to any historic occasion. 

But of the nine Presidents under whom I served, from 
McKinley to Truman, the most puzzling and in some ways 

"Dear Mr. President . . .* 

the most disliked during his term was William Howard Taft 
This was not due to any lack of charm or intelligence on the 
part of Mr. Taft To the public he was a fat, good-natured, 
smiling man whose administration was not especially good 
and not especially bad. But inside the White House he was 
unhappy; his feet hurt, he overate, and he often fell asleep 
and snored at his desk. I mention his administration in 
particular, however, because it was a turning point for the 
White House office staff. 

Not long ago I was down on the bay in my boat one sunny 
afternoon when the fish were too lazy to bite and I was too 
lazy to care. I sat there with my hands holding a rod and my 
feet propped up on an icebox that Calvin Coolidge gave me, 
and I got to thinking back over what had happened in the 
White House in the last half century. 

I thought: Well, there was a time when life was pretty 
simple even for the President. There were only a dozen of 
us on the White House staff at the turn of the century, and 
we knew each other's good and bad points. If we needed help 
or advice we could go to the President's secretary or to the 
President himself. We all felt we were part of one big 
family. Then in the days of Mr. Taft aU that began to change. 
The change was due only in part to Mr. Taft, although the 
turning point came, as I will explain later, when his political 
advisers forced on him the first efficiency expert I had ever 
seen within shooting range. I was gun-shy for years after that 

But the real reason was that the business of the Presidency 
was growing up, and during World War I the staff expanded 

"Dear Mr. President . , ." , 

at a rapid rate. To the horror of us old-timers, even women 
came to work in the executive offices, and we had to quit 
messing around the locker room in our undershirts and give 
up our occasional dice and card games in the basement. 

In the succeeding administrations our operations became so 
extended and so complex that the feeling of being "in the 
family" was never recaptured, except perhaps in a measure 
under Mr. Coolidge. Our jobs gained added excitement and 
interest, but by the nineteen-twenties we had become part of 
a big-scale executive operation. 

It was President Hoover, with his engineering background, 
who brought the evolution to a scientific peak. He virtually 
engineered us into exile with the introduction of the multiple- 
secretary system that isolated him from White House per 
sonnel A lot of people thought it was so efficient that it also 
isolated Mr. Hoover from the trend of public opinion, but 
that was not entirely true. 

It remained for Franklin Roosevelt to complete the evolu 
tion by employing and expanding this system so skillfully 
that he created the illusion of his personal touch on every 
thing connected with the White House. 

Well, I was sitting there in my boat thinking about the 
different people who had lived iri the White House and the 
vast changes that had come about in handling the mail, as 
well as in everything else, since I first went to work there in 
1897. 1 thought that if I ever wrote about it I would have a 
hard time explaining some of the things that happened during 
those years. It wouldn't be easy, either, to explain to young 
people in this technological age how we got our work done 


"Dear Mr. President . . " 

when I was a young clerk handling President McKinley's mail 
and doing odd jobs around an office that I remember for its 
big ledgers with precise, handwritten entries, its cumbersome 
typewriters., and its clicking telegraph key. 

It would be difficult, I thought, to make plain the attitude 
of the White House staff toward certain famous men and 
women and children how we felt, for instance, when an 
exasperated clerk soundly spanked the naughty daughter of 
a President without knowing that her father was watching 
grimly from the doorway. 

But I felt that the most difficult thing of all would be to 
explain how I managed to hang onto my job through almost 
thirteen administrations. That was no simple task in itself 
when you realize that I stayed put while six Republican and 
three Democratic Presidents moved in and out of the old 
mansion on Pennsylvania Avenue. I don't believe there is 
anybody else alive today who has held a comparable govern 
ment post for so many years, who saw so many famous men 
and women come and go. 

Let me be quick to say that my staying power should be 
attributed to peculiar circumstances as much as to any un 
usual talents of mine for the job that, in later years, was 
officially described as Chief of Mails. As Joe Louis once said 
when asked how he had managed to remain heavyweight 
champion for so long, "I was lucky." Yes, I was lucky, but 
I wasn't afraid of long hours when there was extra work to be 
done, and I had something else that seldom seems to be 
exactly harmful to a career in Washington friends. 

Let's be frank about it I got my job in the first place 

"Dear Mr. President . , * 

through political pull. In fact, there was plenty of political 
influence in my behalf at the White House but actually no 
specific job for me when my uncle persuaded President Mc- 
Kinley to hire me, and sometimes I had to scramble around 
to find enough work to keep them from catching on and 
sending me back to Ohio. 

I don't feel that I was terribly ambitious. Like William 
Howard Taft, my sin was "an indisposition to labor as hard 
as I should/' In defiance of American tradition, I never had 
any desire to be President, and seeing a few Presidents at 
close range merely confirmed my attitude. I just wanted to 
handle the White House mail. 

I also wanted occasionally to see a good baseball game, to 
invest a few dollars in a crap game in the White House 
basement, and to find time to get a small bet down on the 
fifth race at Pimlico when the ponies were running. There's 
no reason to put that sentence in the past tense; that's what 
I still want. These inclinations, however, were often no help 
to me in my job, if I may state the circumstances in a re 
strained manner. In the early days I was the object of some 
severe lectures by the executive clerk. There were several 
of us in minor jobs who used to take advantage of dull after 
noons to go down to the basement locker room, where it 
was dusty and quiet, spread out a blanket, and roll dice. 

When executive clerk Rudolph Forster found us there he 
usually gave me the most severe dressing-down. One day, 
feeling that this was rank discrimination, I asked him why he 
always directed his sharpest remarks at me. 

"Well," he replied, giving me a long stare, "whenever this 

"Dear Mr. President . . /* 

happens some of the boys may be here one time but not the 
next. You're here every time." 

I had to admit that he was probably correct, but I didn't 
feel that it should really be held against me, because when 
there was work to be done I often kept on the job until mid 
night or later and regularly I worked all day Sunday. 

There were a number of times, however, when my job was 
in jeopardy. One presidential secretary was fully determined 
to fire me, but changed his mind for a variety of reasons I 
will explain later. One President's wife wanted to punish the 
less sedate members of the staff, which naturally included 
me, for playing baseball on the lawn. And one President took 
office with the idea in mind thatbecause of a pre-election 
incident that was not my faultI could be dispensed with. 
He was persuaded to change his mind later, and I worked for 
him longer than for any other President Twelve years, 
in fact 

Actually, every time a new administration came in there 
was a period of political uncertainty that affected the entire 
staff, because new presidential secretaries are likely to want 
new personnel all down the line. And there are always politi 
cal debts to be paid off. A large number of letters would 
come to each new President from political job-hunters who 
wanted to take my place as "postmaster" at the White House, 
These presumably deserving party workers seemed to go on 
the theory that there would be a new man in my job just as, 
in the olden times, the village post office got a new boss every 
time a national election brought a change in the party in 
power. Most such job-hunters could think of nothing easier 


"Dear Mr. President . . /* 

that sorting a few letters for the presidential family and then 
sitting with feet on desk until the next mail came in. 

It might have worked out that way, but it didn't. In the 
first place, there wasn't much time to loaf between truckloads 
of mail. I liked to get my feet up on the desk occasionally, but 
many times we worked until long after midnight, on Sun 
days, and on holidays trying to catch up with a flood of let 
ters and packages. I figure that I have about seven years of 
overtime pay coming to me for all of my extra-hours work, 
but I never counted on getting it. 

When I first went to work at the White House, President 
McKinley was getting an average of perhaps 100 letters a 
day, and there were frequent complaints that something 
would have to be done about such an avalanche of mail. As I 
grew familiar with the job, the mail grew by leaps and 
bounds. In President Hoover's time, the mail averaged about 
800 a day, and during the New Deal it averaged about 
8000 a day, with peak days on which we would go down 
under a count of 150,000 letters and parcels. We ceased to 
count the letters; we just lined them up and measured the 
length of each row. The mere physical handling of the mail 
required a staff that grew from one man myself to twenty- 
two regularly employed persons and in emergencies to 
seventy persons, including such volunteer helpers as Mrs. 
James Roosevelt, the President's daughter-in-law. She could 
go through a bag of mail with the best of them, and often 

Fortunately, from my viewpoint, the mail always piled 
up in terrifying fashion with the advent of each new Presi- 


"Dear Mr. President . , " 

dent. When the new President and his secretary got a glimpse 
of the thousands of letters arriving daily or stacked up await 
ing an answer, they were likely to throw up their hands in 
helpless horror. Even if they had someone in mind for my 
job they were likely to shrug and say: "Well, let Ira Smith 
do it, at least for a while. He knows how/' 

So I would go ahead until they could "get somebody else/' 
or until the backlog of letters had been cleared up, which 
usually took about six months. By that time I had either been 
accepted or something had happened to strengthen my posi 
tion. When Woodrow Wilson came in, for instance, he was 
the first Democrat in the White House since my appointment, 
and I didn't feel particularly secure. They told me to go 
ahead, however, with stacks of mail that had been forwarded 
from his home and from the Democratic National Commit 
tee. It didn't hurt my standing when I found, in unopened 
letters containing campaign contributions, $65,000 that the 
Democrats didn't even know they had. 

A lot of other unexpected things have been found in the 
White House mail in the last fifty years, including a few dis 
guised but highly dangerous packages of explosives. None of 
the dangerous mail ever got close to the President and, with 
modern methods now in use, none of it ever will. But in a 
job like mine the possibility that you might come across some 
thing was always in the back of your mind, along with a huge 
mass of miscellaneous data concerning ways to recognize the 
mail from members of the President's family, the handwriting 
of important correspondents, the color of the envelopes used 
by personal friends, and odd postmarks that meant letters 


"Dear Mr. President . . /* 

in which the Chief Executive would be personally inter 

After a while, a man handling mail of this nature develops 
a sort of sixth sense that makes it possible for him to work 
with great speed. I could tell almost by looking at them some 
thing about the contents of most of the letters and packages 
that came into the White House mail room. Especially if they 
were crank letters or dangerous packages. 

In the old days, when we lacked any sort of scientific 
apparatus for examining the mail, it was up to me to guess 
whether a package was dangerous, unless it happened to be 
spotted by the post-office clerks before it was delivered to the 
White House. Since it was my neck that was at stake, I 
became accustomed to taking a good look at all packages 
before opening them or even before handling them. This 
became second nature with me, and the danger signs would 
automatically register in my mind as I looked over the day's 
deliveries. The lack of a return address was one thing I noted 
immediately, because that became a familiar clue to the 
crank letter or the dangerous package. Just as suspicious was 
a return address such as "John Brown, Podunk, Ohio/' unless 
we happened to know such a person, because a crank is not 
likely to have much imagination in such matters. 

If a package was particularly heavy for its size, it was 
likely to be laid aside for later examination and of course if 
it ticked, I frequently dumped it into a bucket of oil before 
opening it. I was always a reasonably cautious man, and that 
may help account for the lack of explosions around the White 
House mail room in my time there. I was fortunate, as well, 


"Dear Mr. President . . /* 

because on a couple o occasions there were explosions of 
White House mail while it was still in the hands of the 
General Post Office. 

Over the years we worked out methods of handling all 
mail, but it was always interesting to study the methods of cor 
respondents who sought to avoid our precautions. I remember 
one envelope addressed to the President with the notation: 
"Very personal, if that means anything to a long-nosed secre 
tary/' And another that said: "Anyone opening this letter 
other than the President will be subject to a lawsuit." Some 
times the writers of letters that failed to reach the President 
would become so incensed that they would travel many miles 
to make a personal visit to the White House. Usually I had 
to try to pacify them. Some of them went away happy, but 
sometimes I needed police help to get rid of them or to 
prevent violence. 

Other habitual correspondents resorted to all kinds of 
tricks, such as throwing letters into the President's auto 
mobile as he drove along the street, or enclosing a bribe in a 
letter with a plea to get it to the President. Occasionally ex 
pensive gifts accompanied the letters for the same purpose. 
Others tried to hand letters to the President's wife at public 
affairs, or to deliver them by hand to the front door of the 
White House. All of them ended up in the same place the 
mail room. 

And having reached the mail room, they became, of course, 
my responsibility. Sometimes it was a responsibility that 
couldn't be discharged to suit everybody, and I suppose I 
occasionally ruffled the feelings of important persons. Some- 

"Dear Mr. President . . ." 

times it took a bit of scheming and a bit of political puU to 
keep things going around the office, and not infrequently it 
was tough going, at that Well, that was all right with me. As 
far back as I can remember to my boyhood in the California 
mountains IVe had to be reasonably fast on my feet to get 
along. IVe had to be pretty tough sometimes, too. 



-*- think I'd better explain about my Uncle John. He was 
my pull. 

Uncle John was John N. Taylor, my mother's brother, and 
a man who had made his way up to become president of the 
huge Knowles, Taylor and Knowles potteries in East Liver 
pool, Ohio. His way may have been made a little less rugged 
when he married the boss's daughter, but that was in the best 
American tradition, and anyway my point is that he got to the 
top. He was a pillar of rock-ribbed Republicanism in the 
state, and that meant that he was on close terms with such 
fabulous characters as Mark Hanna, and of course William 

My uncle John made a big thing out of china plates and 
cups and saucers when the East Liverpool potteries were 
among the largest in the world, and his campaign contribu 
tions helped do big things for the Grand Old Party in Ohio, 
too. In fact, at one time he had a hand in a bit of financial 
aid to Mr. McKinley when times were tough, and he was 

"Dear Mr. President . . " 

naturally gratified when there came a day on which Mr. 
McKinley, pushed somewhat by Mark Hanna, moved into 
the White House. 

These developments were important to me, too, because 
Uncle John had more or less looked after me from the time I 
was in my early 'teens. My father was William J. Smith, born 
on a farm near Midway, Pennsylvania. My grandfather Smith 
had made a good thing of several farms that he owned, and 
he gave one of them to each of his sons. Father took his, but 
he didn't want it. He wanted to be a preacher, and he was 
entranced by the famous evangelists of the day, including 
Moody and Sankey. He went to Pittsburgh and studied under 
a famous Presbyterian minister, Dr. Sylvester Scoville, and 
later he traveled the evangelistic trail. He never went to a 
theological seminary, but he became an ordained minister. 
He also met and married an Irish girl named Elizabeth 

My parents lived on the farm for a couple of years, and I 
was born there in 1875, and named for Ira D. Sankey, with 
Robert Taylor added on by Mother. When Father was 
offered the pastorate of the First Presbyterian Tabernacle at 
San Francisco, he turned the farm back to his father for cash 
and took off for the West. My mother and my baby sister 
Ethel and I followed as soon as he had made preparations for 
us. In San Francisco Father became known as the Sporting 
Parson, because he loved outdoor life and big-game hunting. 
Frequently he supplied deer and bear steaks for members of 
his congregation. Once he and Mother made a trip to the 
Hawaiian Islands, where they were entertained by island 

"Dear Mr. President . . ? 

royalty and took part in exciting hunts for the small wild 
cattle that overran some of the islands. 

Father was a big and handsome man, standing an inch over 
six feet and weighing about 190 pounds. His thick black hair 
was combed back from his forehead, and he had a full mus 
tache that curled a trifle at the ends. 

He was an excellent shot and a natural athlete. I have seen 
him jump completely over the dining-room table from a 
standing start. He spoke gravely and precisely, but he was a 
man who enjoyed a good time, especially in the outdoors. 

His congregation had given him an unusual gun, which 
had three barrels. Two were shot-gun barrels and the third, 
which was underneath, was a rifle. One day when we were 
hunting I saw him line up two birds and bring down both of 
them with a shot from one barrel. As he fired, a large buck 
deer and a young buck got up from the brush near by and 
ran in different directions. He got both of them with the other 
two barrels. 

When I was seven or eight years old, he sometimes took 
me with him to hunting camps in northern California. The 
little narrow-gauge railroad we traveled on followed a twist 
ing, curving path into the mountains, sometimes almost 
doubling back on itself. It also ran very slowly, and more 
than once we got off on a curve and cut across the hillside to 
shoot some game, catching the train on the run again as it 
rounded the next loop in the track. 

When I was about eight, my mother took us children I 
now had a small brother named Ned back to Ohio and 
Pennsylvania on a visit. In those days it took ten days to 


"Dear Mr. President . . " 

make the trip from California by train, and a dreary journey 
it was. While we were gone, Father became ill, and the 
doctors told him he ought to live in the mountains. He wrote 
us about it. He said that he had bought a ranch in the moun 
tains above the Santa Ynez Valley in southern California, 
and that it would be ready for us when we got back. 

We didn't go directly there, however. He met us at Dun 
can's Mills, above San Francisco, when we returned. He was 
thin and seemed restless, and when he had kissed each of us, 
he turned to Mother and said: 

"Bessie, IVe got to have a drink of whisky." 

We all looked at him in pop-eyed fashion, except Mother, 
who may have realized that he was tired and sick, and that 
the long trip from Santa Ynez had done him no good. 

"Will," she said, "don't you go in a saloon. People will talk. 
If you need a drink, just get a bottle of whisky and take it to 
our hotel room." 

Father was not a drinking man, except for wine with his 
meals occasionally, but this time he had made up his mind 
that he needed a drink, and he wasn't going to resort to any 

"No, ma'am/' he said. "I need a drink and 111 be honest 
about it and have it at the bar." 

He went into the saloon and leaned his long frame against 
the bar and had his drink. When he came back I asked him 
when we would get started for the ranch. 

"Well, son," lie replied, "we'll have to wait a few days. 
Things aren't quite ready there and we need some rest. Then 
we'll take the boat down to Santa Barbara." 


"Dear Mr. President . . ." 

A few days later we went down to Santa Barbara. That, 
Father explained, was as close to the ranch as the boat went. 
"Now we have to get the stage," he added. "This is the 
Wild West." 

I thought it was fine. The stage was pulled by four lively 
horses and we jolted over a rocky, dusty road that wound 
slowly over San Marcos Pass. On beyond in the valley the road 
was frequently so full of ruts that we had to circle into the 
open fields to avoid getting stuck. It was fun to keep an eye 
peeled for Indians and stagecoach robbers. There weren't 
any highwaymen that day and there never had been any 
Indians, but it was still fun. We were all pretty tired by the 
end of the day and glad to see the town of Santa Ynez. We 
were really out in the wilds. 

"Are we there now?" I asked Father after we had washed 
the top layer of dust off our faces. He grinned at me and said 
that we were just going to stop in Santa Ynez for the night, be 
cause that was as close to the ranch as the stage line went. 

"Tomorrow," he went on, "we get some buckboards and a 
few pack mules and go up that way." He pointed toward the 
mountains. I looked at Mother. She had never lived in sur 
roundings much more rugged than East Liverpool and San 
Francisco, and she was pretty busy with Ethel and Ned, but 
her eyes twinkled at me. She was game. 

The next day we traveled slowly along the rough moun 
tain road, climbing steadily. The buckboards bounced and the 
pack mules had to be prodded along. There was an occa 
sional ranch house, but mostly there were just the woods and 
the mountains. About dusk we stopped. I couldn't see any- 


"Dear Mr. President . . .** 

thing that looked like a ranch, but I didn't feel much like 
asking questions again. 

Father explained, however, that we couldn't get to the 
ranch that night and that we would camp where we were. 

"This is as close to the ranch as the road goes/' he said. 
"Tomorrow well go on horseback. I Ve got some stone sledges 
to haul our goods on. It's only four miles up the trail." 

It all seemed more than passing strange to me, but I was 
too tired to think about it and we settled down to sleep after 
a makeshift supper. 

Next morning we loaded the pack mules and the stone 
sledges and started out over a trail that was too rough for 
anything with wheels. It was almost too rough in spots for 
the sledges, and often we had to hold up one side of a sledge 
while the mules pulled it uncertainly over a narrow rocky 

I have no idea what was going through Mother's mind as 
we labored up that trail to the ranch in Cachuma canyon. 
She was a pretty, plump, and healthy young woman, not 
much more than five feet tall, and she was not the worrying 
kind. Her dark, red-tinged hair was long enough to reach 
below her waist, but she wore it twisted into knots on her 
head, usually without a hat. In the mountains she wore heavy 
bloomers that came below her knees and a dark skirt that 
barely covered the bloomers. Nothing ever seemed to faze 
her, then or later. 

Perhaps she had known all along what we were heading 
for, or perhaps she was just one of those women who can take 
what comes, whether it's the wilderness or the White House. 


"Dear Mr. President . . /* 

Anyway she did, and it seemed to me that she was just about 
as much in character that day on the rocky trail as she was 
later among the gold braid and fancy gowns at a White 
House reception. 

But somewhere along that trail I began to connect up what 
had happened and to guess that Father's illness was more 
serious than we had been told. Looking back at it now, I 
assume that he had suffered a nervous breakdown and that, 
at least part of the time, his actions were irrational. But then 
I realized it only vaguely, and Mother never let on that any 
thing was wrong. Even with three small children on her 
hands, she could take it. 

We came at last to the ranch, in a rugged canyon with a 
good stream running through it. Near the stream was a sturdy 
little storehouse and we stopped there first. Father showed 
us how well he had stocked it. He was quite proud of the 
cases of good wine, bottled olives, canned fruit (very rare in 
those days), -and other luxury goods that were stacked high 
along the walls. There was plenty to last through the 

We walked on across the ranch. There were plenty of 
chickens and turkeys and milkcows. There was, in fact, just 
one thing that Father had neglected. There wasn't any house 
to live in. The foundation of a house had been started, but it 
would be months before it was finished. Meantime, there were 
two tents with wooden floors to shelter usand the rainy 
season was coming on. There were stoves and beds in the 
tents and that night we went to sleep exhausted, worrying 
very little about tomorrow. 


"Dear Mr. President . . ? 

Well, we got along. There were times when Father was 
his old self and we hunted together. On one such occasion we 
walked about a mile up the mountain, where he shot a deer 
that bounded away up the trail and around a bend. We fol 
lowed the trail of blood, polished the deer off, and hung it up 
on a tree to be picked up later. 

Going back down the trail, Father walked in front. Just as 
he came to the bend he stopped abruptly, stepped back and 
fired his gun. A big mountain lion landed exactly where 
Father had been standing. It was very dead, having expired 
in mid-air with one bullet in its heart. Didn't even move after 
it hit the ground. Apparently the lion had been following the 
trail of blood left by the deer, and was so excited that it 
attacked the moment it saw us. It measured eight feet from 
nose to the tip of its tail and was about the biggest mountain 
lion I ever saw. I saw quite a few of them, too, because while 
we lived on the ranch they used to come down to the edge of 
the creek almost every night and try to make off with some of 
our turkeys or chickens. Sometimes they made a terrific 

There were not many hunting expeditions, however, in 
Cachuma canyon, because Father's health was failing rapidly 
and he became irritable and erratic. He lost his taste for ordi 
nary food and spent much of his time planning and preparing 
delicacies, or sending me to town on horseback to bring him 
something that he thought might whet his appetite. I was 
kept so busy running his errands and working on the 
ranch that I often found myself falling asleep at meals or on 


"Dear Mr. President . . ? 

Finally he got some pigeons, and built a pigeon cote on a 
high pole. He remembered that he had enjoyed squab when 
he lived in the city and could get it properly prepared. About 
four o'clock one morning he woke me up and sent me out to 
the pigeon cote. 

"Ira," he said, "I always like squab for breakfast Will you 
climb up that pole and get me one?" 

Weary, half -asleep, and numb, I climbed up the pole, and 
Father had squab for breakfast. He was a good cook, and it 
was probably better than he could have got under glass at the 
Hotel St. Francis. But almost every morning for weeks we 
repeated that scene before dawn. It became a sort of night 
mare that went on endlessly and dreadfully, high up there in 
the mountain canyon witnessed only by our sleepy dogs and 
occasionally a sulky wildcat. 

Father also had purchased a lot of blooded stock for the 
ranch. We had horses, pigs, turkeys, and cattle, but they 
were not properly cared for and got wilder and wilder. Even 
tually, all of them were lost to the wilds, to the adjacent 
ranches, or to the 'animals in the forest. 

Father's condition became steadily worse, and finally he 
had to go to a sanitarium near San Francisco, where he died 
in 1887. Mother went to San Francisco at the time of his 
death, leaving me alone on the ranch and parking my brother 
and sister with a family down in the Santa Ynez Valley. 

I didn't mind being left alone, because I could take care 
of myself, but I didn't often see anybody because we were 
so far off the road. So I was surprised one day when a dirty 
and bearded character showed up at the ranch house. 


"Dear Mr, President . . ." 

"Hello, sonny/' he said. "Where's your folks?" 

I told him. 

"You here alone, eh? . . . Well, I was just looking around 
for a place to stay. Maybe I could sleep in that cabin you got 
down on the creek. I guess that'll be okay, eh?" 

"What are you doing here?" I asked him. He looked like a 
tough one to me. 

"Oh, I got a job with the old guy across the hill. Herding 
his cattle. That cabin of yours is handy and I'll just sleep 
there. My name is Blood/' 

There wasn't much I could do about it. That night I locked 
myself in the house and then locked the door of my room, and 
I got out the biggest bear trap we had. It was so big you had 
to use a lever to open the jaws and set it. I got it set and put 
it under the only window of my room. Even then I didn't 
sleep well. Blood didn't look like a cattleman, and after I had 
watched him a few days I was pretty sure he was lying. 

Then one day the sheriff rode up to the house and asked if 
Td seen any strangers around. I told him about Blood and he 
said that was -the man. 

"Want him for robbing a stagecoach," he said. But when 
we went to the cabin Blood was gone. They caught him the 
next week at a town down in the valley, but I don't know 
what finally happened to him. 

Not long after that I got to feeling lonesome, and one day 
I saddled a horse and rode down to the valley to see Ethel 
and Ned. I met them on the road before I got to the ranch 
house where they were staying. Both of them burst into tears 
when they saw me. They were dirty, and told me fearfully 


"Dear Mr. President . . ." 

that they had been mistreated by the family that was sup 
posed to be looking after them. I took them up on the horse 
and we rode back to the ranch. 

We got along all right until a few nights later, when a 
terrific storm hit the canyon. The wind blew so hard that the 
house shook and we couldn't sleep. After a while we became 
badly frightened, and we got up in the middle of the night 
and started down the hill to a little cabin that was better 
protected from the wind. I carried Ned and held onto Ethel's 
hand, and I thought we were all three going to be blown off 
the side of the mountain. Just as we left the house, the whole 
roof blew off, and a big piece of it sailed a few feet over our 
heads. We ran madly to the cabin. Soon a heavy snowfall 


The next day before daylight Mother arrived, leading a 
horse and carrying her little black-and-tan terrier. The eve 
ning before, she had called at the ranch where Ethel and Ned 
were supposed to be staying, and found them gone. The 
ranchers didn't know where they were, and didn't seem to 
care much. Mother borrowed a horse and, carrying the little 
dog, started the fifteen-mile ride to the ranch. About four 
miles from the ranch the dog jumped out of her arms, 
and after she had caught it again she couldn't get back on 
the horse. She walked the last four miles, only to find the roof 
blown off the house, the rooms covered with snow, and no 
children in sight. We were all three sound asleep when she 
found us in the cabin. For an Easterner, Mother certainly put 
up with some rough times in Calif omia. 

The only schooling we had was when Mother had time to 


"Dear Mr. President . . /* 

teach us to read and write, and to work simple arithmetic 
problems and a little grammar. A few rough edges were 
knocked off by a sojourn in Ballard, where I attended the 
country school. Mother's brother John was getting along well 
in East Liverpool, Ohio, and in 1889 he decided to send me 
to the San Mateo Military School. I was a raw and inde 
pendent kid by that time. I didn't care much for discipline, 
and I didn't stand in -awe of my elders, or anyone else. The 
life I had been living on the ranch and on long hunting 
trips in the mountains failed to encourage respect for 
authority, but I was usually able to protect myself in the 

When I first went to San Mateo, I didn't like the idea of 
being pushed around by the upperclass boys, and I let them 
know it. They decided to give the newcomer a lesson in 
discipline and, almost before I realized what was happening, 
they had me in an impromptu outdoor boxing match with 
the school champion. There wasn't any question in anybody's 
mind, including my own, that he was going to teach me to 
respect the upperclassmen by knocking my head off. 

Since I couldn't get out of it, I put on the boxing gloves 
and approached him with as much confidence as I could 
muster. He obviously had decided to waste no time on me, 
and he uncorked his Sunday punch in the direction of my 
chin. It would have been a devastating blow except that as 
he swung, his foot slipped on some small stones and he 
started to fall. I saw what was happening and stepped in 
close and popped him square in the face as he went down. 
After that I didn't waste any time. I turned my back on him, 


"Dear Mr. President . . ." 

shrugged my shoulders and took off the boxing gloves. I 
walked away as sedately and as rapidly as possible. Even 
then I knew a lucky break when I saw it. 

In school I was ahead of my class in some things, but far 
behind in others. After a year and a half, however, I man 
aged to get to the top of the honor list in everything except 

My uncle John had been urging Mother to return to Ohio, 
and finally she made a trip there, leaving us children in the 
care of different families around Santa Ynez. My brothei 
stayed with Mrs. Lyman, who owned a ranch not far from 
us. She was a vigorous and emphatic old girl who had had 
five husbands and was still going strong. She didn't want Ned 
to wear out his good clothes around the ranch, so she made 
him some strange costumes out of flour sacks. He looked like 
a freak, but he loved it, and later we had a tough time getting 
him back into ordinary clothes. 

A remarkable old character with a flossy white beard and 
known all over the county as Uncle Davy Brown lived twenty 
miles over the mountain from Mrs. Lyman. Uncle Davy's 
leathery face had more wrinkles than a box of prunes, but he 
was a lively number, and I often visited with him for several 
days at a time. His cabin was a one-room affair with a door 
but no windows, and there was a lean-to where he did his 
cooking. The lean-to had swinging doors at each end, and 
when he wanted a fire he would haul in a long log the size 
of a tree, trim the branches, and put it on a sort of fireplace 
made of rocks in the center of the shed. He would then start 
a fire in the middle of the tree and keep pushing the ends 


"Dear Mr. President . . /* 

together as the middle burned. It worked fine, and saved a lot 
of wood-chopping. 

One night when I was sitting on a pyramid of logs covered 
with bearskins and listening to Uncle Davy's stories of the 
Mexican War we heard a squawking among the chickens 
roosting in a tree near the cabin. 

"That varmint's back/' Uncle Davy muttered, and he got 
down his muzzle-loading rifle. He handed me a lighted pine 
knot and told me to throw it over the cabin when he yelled. I 
threw it, making an arc of fire over the roof, and while the 
light lasted he shot a big mountain lion off a limb above the 
roof. I shall never forget the thump as it hit the roof and the 
scratching as it slithered off. In the meantime I had taken 
refuge in the cabin with the door tight shut. I still have one of 
the lion's claws. 

Uncle Davy had a boy working for him, but they didn't 
get along, and he was always asking me to take over the job. 
Finally he told Mother that he would legally adopt me and 
make me his heir. He claimed he had two ranches and $25,000 
in the bank, and he pointed out that he wasn't going to be 
around much longer, because he was then about ninety. 
Mother was planning to return to Ohio and she declined the 
offer. We rather doubted that the old duffer had any money. 
He didn't look it, and we thought he probably just wanted a 
boy to help on the ranch. 

Once every week Uncle Davy got aboard a horse and rode 
down to the lazy, dusty little town of Ballard to buy a few 
supplies and see how civilization was getting along. His road 
went past Mrs. Lyman's ranch and he always stopped off 


"Dear Mr. President . . ." 

there to get a meal and sometimes to stay overnight. One 
week he failed to show up on schedule. Mrs. Lyman saddled 
a horse and rode over to his ranch and found him pretty sick. 
She settled down to take care of him. 

Years before that time Mother had agreed with Uncle John 
and had gathered us children together again and taken us 
back to East Liverpool. I went to high school there. I didn't 
get back to the Santa Ynez Valley for more than half a cen 
tury, and when I did our ranch had reverted to the wilds. I 
went up to look it over one day and had a lot of trouble 
finding the spot where the house had been. A willow tree 
about two feet thick was growing where once we had the 
kitchen. Everything was changed except the mountains and 
Ballard. Both seemed to be just about the same. When I was 
reading a newspaper a few days later I came across a column 
that reprinted items from "Fifty Years Ago." One of the items 

July 7, 1898 

An estate valued at $30,000 has been left to the woman who 
took care of him in his old age by Uncle Davy Brown of Guada- 
lupe. Two mules, Tom and Jinks, are to be cared for upon the 
ranch without work so long as either of them lives. The 30-year- 
old animals are to be kept in good condition with ample pasture. 
Declaring he had never been married, the deceased provided that 
any alleged widows or adopted children if proved authentic should 
receive $50. 

Well, I thought, I finally got the end of the story. It was 
Mrs. Lyman, however, who got the dough. 




- in 1897 at Wooster, Ohio, and holding three aces. The pot 
had just been worked up to an interesting size when my 
brother ran in with a telegram. I had been more or less 
expecting the telegram, but my hand trembled a bit as I 
carefully put down my cards and tore it open. It said 


I left the three aces, a six, and a trey face down on the table 
and rushed home to get ready. It was a big break and a big 
salary for me, but it was more than that. It was the first time 
I had been able to put much faith in my family's long-stand 
ing belief that politics paid off. Uncle John had come through 
in the pinch. It was about time he got a break, too, because he 
had lately suffered some unkind blows. One had come a few 
years earlier when that man Grover Cleveland got into the 
White House and the Democrats put through a free-trade 
program. Those were sad days for Uncle John and a lot of 
other Republican industrialists. 


"Dear Mr. President . . " 

Another blow came when I announced I would do almost 
anything in the world except go into Uncle John's pottery 
business. I had attended Wooster University (it is now 
Wooster College) , pitched for the baseball team, learned not 
to draw to an inside straight, squired a few pretty girls 
around, and completed my course without arousing any out 
bursts of enthusiasm on the part of the university authorities. 
I had some vague idea that I would like to study law, but 
the truth is that I was not headed in any particular direction 
along life's highway. That meant that Uncle John had to 
worry about me as well as about Grover Cleveland, because 
nobody, including myself, could figure out exactly what I 
was fitted for in life. Mr. McKinley solved both problems by 
defeating the Democrats in the presidential election and 
inviting Uncle John to visit at the White House immediately 
after the inaugural ceremonies. He was still the Presidents 
guest when he sent the telegram telling me to hurry to Wash 
ington. Neither he nor Mr. McKinley had yet figured out 
what I was fitted for, but the President was willing to try. 

My job, when I got to it, was in the executive offices, which 
were on the second floor of the White House proper. The 
office force of six clerks, a secretary, an assistant secretary, 
and an executive clerk was in two rooms across the hall from 
the presidential office, which adjoined the Lincoln Room. 
John Addison Porter, who was Mr. McKinley's first secretary, 
took an interest in me, but sometimes my green and probably 
dumb performances drove him into an outburst of temper. 

My duties as a clerk were not very strenuous, and when the 
President was out of town I had plenty of free time. I was 


"Dear Mr. President . . ." 

beginning to worry about the danger of my job vanishing 
into thin air when Porter decided that I should help Mrs. 
McKinley with her mail. She was a semi-invalid, a gentle and 
kindly woman, and I enjoyed working with her. 

I put my best efforts into the job. Mrs. McKinley was 
pleased and I, unknowingly, had solved the problem of a 
career. A man named Joe Moss had been working in the presi 
dential offices, and among other things he handled the Presi 
dent's mail when it was delivered, opening and sorting the 
letters and turning them over to Porter or one of the clerks. 
When Moss was transferred elsewhere, Porter looked around 
for someone to take over this thankless odd job and picked 
on me because I had handled Mrs. McKinley's mail. I heaved 
a sigh of relief when I was told the news. They had practically 
had to manufacture a job for me, but now I had it, and it was 
going to be fifty years before they could get me out of it. 

When you think of the McKinley days you have to forget 
such things as radios, bubble gum, airplanes, and atom 
bombs. There weren't any. There were days of war at the 
turn of the century, but mostly these were days of tremendous 
economic expansion, of handsome carriages on the avenues, 
of waving plumes on ladies* hats and real bustles that in no 
way resembled the fashionable foolishness that came along 
fifty years later with something called the New Look. The 
railroads were sticking out shining steel fingers all over the 
West, and great financial empires rocked with the schemes 
of the James J. Hills, the Morgans, the Harrimans, and the 
Jacob Schiffs. There was a newfangled contraption called the 
Stanley Steamer, a horseless carriage that ran on steam gen- 


"Dear Mr. President . . /* 

crated by naphtha providing it could find any road good 
enough to run on. 

But these things, for the most part, touched the White 
House only pleasantly, or indirectly, or not at all. Except for 
the war, of course, and the Stanley Steamer, in which the 
President was persuaded to go for a trial spin at the speed of 
eighteen miles an hour. It was generally conceded that such 
speed was outrageous, and a foolish risk of the neck of the 
Chief Executive. 

One of the first things I noticed about life in the White 
House and it was still noticeable when I retired from my 
job was the heavy load that the President personally is 
forced to carry. The nation has grown and expanded and 
become a highly complex civilization in the last century and 
a half. Yet in many ways the Presidency has remained almost 
unchanged since the days of George Washington, permitting 
a vast burden of pressures and duties to grow up that make 
it a killing job. 

I would go into President McKinley's office and find him 
sadly eying a huge stack of commissions, including those of 
junior officers. He would shake his head unhappily, or he 
might hum a Methodist tune as if it would give him courage 
to face the task. 

"Let's get busy," he would say after greeting me. I would 
hand him a commission from the pile, he would sign it, and 
then I would put it on a table to dry before it was returned to 
the department for mailing. This was necessary since each 
commission was made of sheepskin and could not be blotted. 
The President would hum harder and sign less happily as we 


"Dear Mr , President . . " 

worked tlirougli the pile, and soon all the desks in the office 
would be covered and I would start spreading the commis 
sions out on the floor. By the time the first one signed was dry, 
the Chief Executive would be surrounded by an ocean of 
commissions that stopped all traffic and virtually all business. 

"'Something ought to be done about this/' he would com 
plain at intervals. "Somebody else ought to be able to sign 

But it was a long time before the President was even 
partly relieved of a job that may have been necessary in 
George Washington's day, but not in the twentieth century. 
Even today, however, it is a duty that eats heavily into the 
President's time and strength. 

I suppose that McKinley, Wilson, and Franklin Roosevelt, 
because they were war Presidents, felt the strain of office 
more acutely than the others I knew. I can never forget Presi 
dent McKinley's face when he stood in front of the White 
House and watched the boys who had fought in Cuba parade 
up Pennsylvania Avenue. The sickly color of their skin and 
the way they marched even when passing before the Com- 
mander-in-Chief told a story that the President already knew 
from countless cables and letters that I had passed on to him. 

It was a sordid story of contractors who took big profits for 
supplying the Army with moldy hard tack and spoiled 
corned beef; of inadequate medical supplies for men stricken 
with malaria, typhoid, and dysentery; of death by disease 
and neglect far outweighing the toll among those who went 
into battle. Sometimes Mr. McKinley sat at his desk until long 
after midnight reading the letters and cables that disclosed 


"Dear Mr. President . . ." 

this disgrace to the nation. The anger and disgust and sorrow 
that they brought him made his face gray and grim as he 
watched the parade of victory in which so many men could 
never march because of greed and inefficiency at home. 

Mr. McKinley was, I suppose, the last of the old-style 
frock-coat presidents, but to me he was always a thoughtful 
friend. There was far more call in those days for the President 
to employ a personal approach in political affairs, and in this 
Mr. McKinley was unequaled. On one early occasion before 
he became President I saw him demonstrate his ability to 
handle any situation with unruffled friendliness. My family 
had a little summer camp in Ohio where Mr. McKinley was 
a guest on the occasion of a small fishing party. He didn't 
like summer camps, he didn't like outdoor sports, and above 
all things, he didn't like fishing. But you would have thought 
he was enjoying every minute of the day, particularly when 
we displayed our prize catch, a 43-pound catfish that must 
have been exceedingly revolting to the fastidious Mr. 

Some of our less understanding friends insisted that he 
should try his hand at fishing and, immaculate in frock coat 
and black tie, he manfully took a pole and ventured down 
to a rocky shelf along the river. There was a flat-bottomed 
boat pulled up on the shelf, half out of the water, and Mr. 
McKinley got into it in order to get his line farther out into 
the water. Strangely enough, he hooked a fish, but as he was 
trying to pull it in his weight slid the boat down the shelf and 
water began to come in over the stern. Slowly, the boat was 
sliding off the shelf and filling with water. 


"Dear Mr. President . . ." 

I was closest to him and I ran over to grab the sinking 
boat. The unhappy fisherman was akeady wet to the knees 
and rocking dangerously, but he turned with grave dignity 
and, holding his fishing pole aloft, staggered back to my 
end of the boat and then to the rock shelf. He never lost his 
good-humored composure, although I knew that he was 
thoroughly disgusted and must have felt like consigning us 
all to perdition as soon as he was alone in his sloshing 

1 1 Instead, he thanked me and said jokingly, "You have 
saved my life, young man, and I shall always be indebted to 
you." Then as he tried to repair some of the damage to his 
clothes he kept up a steady stream of pleasant conversation, 
giving me sage advice on my future, and saying that perhaps 
one day he could help me with a job. Little did he know! 

That was my first realization of the trials of a man who 
would be President, and I sometimes wonder what others 
would have done in the same circumstances. Teddy Roose 
velt would have loved it, but I think Mr. Coolidge, for 
instance, would have set his lips in grim silence. 

Mr. McKinley was probably the hand-shakingest President 
ever in the White House. There were normally three noon 
time receptions a week, at which long lines of visitors would 
gather to file past the Chief Executive. Mr. McKinley would 
take his pkce in the East Room, resplendent in frock coat and 
perhaps with a carnation pinned on his lapel, and the chief 
usher would open the doors. Sometimes the line of waiting 
visitors extended from the White House door out across the 
lawn and as far as the Treasury Building, a block away. It 


"Dear Mr. President . . /* 

was a sight to strike horror into the heart of even a strong 
man, but Mr. McKinley took it in his stride. 

Like all Presidents, he developed a technique of grasping 
a visitor's hand before the other fellow had time to clamp 
down, and thus, by holding the visitor's arm straight, he 
avoided having his own hand squeezed hard. Then he 
dragged the caller along as he shook hands, so that the line 
kept moving. Once he clasped 1200 hands in 19 minutes, or 
about one per second. That was some speed, but he never 
gave the impression that it was a heavy physical strain. Mr. 
McKinley was always in condition, because he was always 
shaking somebody's hand. Often he gave every sign of enjoy 
ing it, and I think he would have felt he was getting soft 
without a few hundred hands to shake every day. 

These public affairs were only part of his heavy political 
schedule. The records of our office for one year showed that 
some 30,000 job-hunters dropped in at the White House, that 
an average of 20 Congressional callers were on the list daily, 
and that 70,000 persons visited the East Room. The President 
saw or shook hands with a large proportion of the visitors, 
and of course he held long conferences with some. 

In a different classification were such influential regular 
callers as Senator Boies Penrose, the quiet, heavy-set Pennsyl 
vania political boss, and Senator Mark Hanna of Ohio, who 
Downed" the President. The cartoonist always pictured Hanna 
as wearing clothes spangled with dollar marks, but not only 
was he the most conservative dresser in Congress, he was also 
one of the most unobtrusive visitors around the White House. 
Penrose was the only powerful political figure I knew who 


Mr. President . . " 

would write an endorsement of any job-hunter wlio hap 
pened to seek his help so help me, anybody! We received 
hundreds of such letters from him., and we always treated 
them perfunctorily. We knew that they didn't mean anything 
and that he didn't expect us to pay any attention to them. If 
he was really interested in getting a job for someone, he 
would speak directly to the President and he usually got 

Two unusual women also were familiar figures to us not 
because they had the run of the White House office, as did 
Penrose and Hanna, but because they were lobbyists. One was 
Dr. Mary Walter, a small, dried-up, and birdlike little woman 
who was a tireless worker for women's rights. She wore men's 
clothes and was looked upon publicly as a sort of freak, but 
she was a brilliant conversationalist and achieved a great deal 
by buttonholing legislators who came to the office. It was 
then against the law in many places for women to wear men's 
clothes, but Congress thought so highly of Dr. Walker that a 
special resolution was passed giving her the right to dress as 
she pleased anywhere in the United States or its territories. 
She always wore a dark coat, vest, shirt and tie, and trousers. 

The other woman was Queen Lil, who wanted to succeed 
her brother on the 'throne of the Hawaiian Islands. She was 
fat, very dusky, and quite unlike the storybook picture of 
Hawaiian royalty, but she wore colorful and extravagant 
dresses, and for a while was one of the more spectacular sights 
of Washington. She came almost daily to the White House 
to >ask whether the President had done anything about restor 
ing her throne. He never had, and after some weeks she 


"Dear Mr. President . . ." 

became discouraged and went back to her islands, where the 
President eventually installed a governor. 

One o the reasons things ran smoothly at the White House 
was that there were men like George B. Cortelyou, who came 
in during the Cleveland administration, and who became 
secretary to Presidents McKinley and Theodore Roosevelt. 
He was perhaps the most competent and most thoughtful 
man I ever worked with, and he knew every detail of every 
job in the White House, from janitor to President. He was 
never too busy to help a befuddled young clerk, and I re 
member once walking in on him while he was in conference 
and asking him how I should describe a small pamphlet that 
had been sent to Mrs. McKinley and which I had been told 
to acknowledge. If he was annoyed, he gave no sign. Instead 
he gravely advised me to call it "a dainty publication," which 
is exactly what it was. 

John Addison Porter, who was President McKinley's first 
secretary, had a violent temper, but he also indulged in out 
bursts of extreme friendliness. One of the thrills of my first 
days in the White House was an argument between Porter 
and Colonel (later General) Theodore Bingham, who became 
Police Commissioner of New York in 1906, but was then in 
charge of Buildings and Grounds. They frequently disagreed, 
and when they did the rest of the office quit work and gath 
ered around just to see which could reach the highest peak 
of profanity and abuse. Both were good, but when they 
reached a point where -they seemed ready to tear each other 
limb from limb, one would say, "Well, let's go to lunch," and 
they would walk off arm in arm. 


"Dear Mr. President . . /' 

We did a lot of work around the White House in those 
days, but we sometimes could coast along, too. I recall being 
kidded about the 'time old Uncle Warren Young, who was the 
roly-poly chief clerk, stopped by my desk and saw I was 

"Where's Ira?" he asked. Somebody said I was sick. 

"Sick, eh?" Uncle Warren said, pointing to an item he had 
been reading on the sports page of his paper. "I see he bowled 
a good score in the tournament last night." (That was in the 
days when I was really rolling them! ) 

Everybody got a laugh out of it except Uncle Warren, who 
had to do my work, but we covered up for each other, and 
nobody complained about my one-day "illness." 

The White House in McKinley's time was a poorly pre 
served and rat-infested old mansion that the President could 
neither get rid of nor get repaired. Representatives from out 
in the farming country were preponderant in Congress, and 
they thought the McKinleys were pretty goldarned lucky 
to have a big house like that free, especially when Congress 
men had a time of it trying to find room and board in 
Washington for $2 a day. What did it matter if the kitchen 
needed a new coat of paint? Congress couldn't spare the 
money right then. 

As a matter of fact, the mansion was not much changed 
from the time it had been rebuilt after being burned by the 
British. Even the grounds were almost the same, because 
every tree and bush was marked on the White House plans, 
and still is. Whenever a tree dies another of the same type is 
planted in its place. 


"Dear Mr. President . . /* 

You entered the front door (it was originally the back 
door) and found yourself in a lobby with a back wall made 
of colored glass, much like a church window, made by Tif 
fany. On the other side of the glass partition a corridor ran 
the length of the house from the East Room to the State 
Dining Room on the west. Off one side of the lobby was a 
little entry from which a narrow wooden stairway mounted 
to the second floor, making two turns on the way. After the 
second turn you came to a landing and a door opening into a 
wide corridor lined with chairs and a table or two. This was 
a sort of lobby where callers waited their turn. 

The Lincoln Room served as a private office for the Presi 
dent, but he had another larger office next door and, adjoin 
ing that, a corner office for his secretary. When I first went 
to the White House as a rather aimless young man just out of 
college, I worked in the office of Secretary Porter for a few 
months. I never felt much awe of famous people, but I was 
interested in the parade of dignitaries, and I probably took 
on some inflated ideas about my own importance now that I 
was on the White House staff. Even though I was appointed 
through political pull and Porter merely stuck me at a desk 
until he could find a job for me, I thought that it wasn't 
just anybody who could step into such historic surround 

That's why I remember so clearly "the man who let him 
out/' He came into the office after I had been there twiddling 
my thumbs for a few days and approached me gravely, a big 
man with a grizzled beard, but grown old and shrunken into 
his clothes. He looked at me with watery eyes, looked out the 


"Dear Mr. President . . ." 

window at the swamps leading down to the Potomac, and 
introduced himself as Pop Pendel 

"I'm the man who let him out," he explained in a quiet 

"How's that?" I asked. 

"The way it was that night/' he said, "was that he come 
down to the front door where the others was waiting for him* 
I remember it clear. The carriage was waiting and ready to 
take them to the theater where some famous lady was per 
forming in a stage show. A famous actress. . . . Well, they 
was all ready to go and they come over to the door where I 
was standing, because I was an usher then just like I am now. 
He was walking tall and straight and he smiled pleasant-like 
at me and I opened the door for him to go down to Ford's 
Theatre. I'm the man who let him out" 

He stared out the window again and I thought he must be 
remembering that dreadful night and the shot fired at Ford's 
Theatre and the infamy of John Wilkes Booth, but instead he 
pointed a long finger at the window. 

-"I used to see him lots of times during the war standing 
right where you are with the saddest look on his face/' he 
said. "He would stand here at night and look out this win 
dow and he could see the campfires across the river and 
nobody knew just how close the rebels were or whether they 
were getting ready for an attack on Washington. He would 
stand here looking until late at night sometimes." 

Pop Pendel turned around and started out, but halfway to 
the door he said: "I was in the Army before I was an usher 
here." Then he went on his way. I heard him tell the story 

''Dear Mr. President . . " 

many times, and lie was always "the man who let him 


When Porter later put me in charge of the President's mail, 
I was moved across the hall, where the staff worked. There 
was one large room for the assistant secretary and a half- 
dozen clerks. Then there was another narrow room at the 
northeast comer. In it were a telegraph operator, a three-foot- 
high boxlike contraption with a dial that served as a house 
telephone and my desk. Oh yes, there was also a partitioned- 
off corner that concealed the office toilet. 

It was sometimes a little difficult under these conditions 
for me to maintain the feeling of dignity that I had fostered 
when I sat where Lincoln had looked out the window, but at 
least everybody in the offices came around every so often, and 
usually stopped for a chat. Everybody except the President, 
who took advantage of 'the plumbing facilities in his living 
quarters at the other end of the house. 

There was an elevator in the White House, but it operated 
on water pressure from a tank on the roof, and usually the 
pressure was low and the elevator declined to run. The only 
time it ever seemed likely that we would get Congressional 
approval for Wliite House repairs was when some stout 
Senator or Representative would call on the President and 
have to puff up the winding stairs. Many of them complained 
bitterly, and couldn't understand why the McKinleys didn't 
keep the machinery in good shape. 

Mr. McKinley would listen gravely to their complaints and 
nod his head, but later when I said something to him about 
the problem, he merely smiled. 


"Dear Mr. President . . ." 

"Let them complain/* lie remarked with a good deal of 
feeling. "It's too easy for them to get up here the way it is." 

The presidential mail was not heavy in comparison with 
today's but, as I have said, it ran about 100 letters a day and 
in times of crisis mounted to 1000 or more, most of them 
from citizens who wanted Mr. McKinley either to get into 
war with Spain in a hurry or to stay out of war with Spain. 
The prowar writers bitterly denounced the President as 
a coward and a pussyfooter. He took these attacks calmly, 
and spent more time than necessary explaining that it was 
his duty to encourage every possibility of a peaceful settle 

It is difficult to draw a line, but these letters and telegrams 
were one of the early forms of organized propaganda mail 
that eventually grew to a huge volume, I didn't take much 
stock in obviously inspired letters at that time, and in later 
years I was even less impressed, but I knew some Presidents 
who were influenced by the erroneous belief that they were 
listening to the voice of the people. My own idea was that if 
a man couldn't make up his own mind after he knew the facts, 
he didn't have any business being President. 

Mr. McKinley was scrupulous about making members of 
his family pull their own weight, and he refused a commis 
sion to his nephew during the war, but he was less rigid in 
regard to his friends. I recall one instance in which a hot- 
tempered young journalist got in a rather sensational jam 
that was almost the reverse of the famous Patton slapping 
incident of World War II. 

Sylvester Scoville, son of a president of Wooster University, 


"Dear Mr. President . . .** 

which I had attended, became a newspaper correspondent in 
Cuba during -the war and was dashing around Santiago when 
the Spanish forces capitulated. He went to the headquarters 
of General William Shafter to get a statement about the 
surrender. Shafter was one of those hardheaded old soldiers 
who didn't understand much about the press, and he was not 
of a mind to give out any information. 

The impetuous young reporter argued with him without 
success and, in a flash of temper, slapped Shafter across the 
face and stalked out. The General fumed and fussed, but in 
those days there were no definite rules for dealing with cor 
respondents, and all he could do was ship Scoville back to 
Washington without delay. There was a lot of speculation as 
to what would happen to him, and for several days some very 
influential political figures from Ohio wandered into the 
White House to ask the President to go easy. 

One day Scoville himself came by. He was a merry and 
dashing young man in a wrinkled suit, and I felt rather sym 
pathetic toward him, but the President declined to receive 
him. I told him I had attended Wooster University and 
invited him out for a drink, which he seemed to need at that 
point We went around to a famous but exclusive old bar 
that was reached only by going through a dusty storeroom 
where whisky cases were stacked high along the walls. Sco 
ville explained that he was sorry about the slapping incident, 
and had merely wanted to apologize to the President. We 
talked it over and decided that they couldn't do much other 
than charge him with disorderly conduct, and after a few 
drinks, we went out and had a fine dinner. Eventually, Mr. 


"Dear Mr. President . . ? 

McKinley chose to ignore the whole affair and let it die out 
without taking any action. 

The death of Mr. McKinley at the hands of a crazed assas 
sin was a terrible blow to the White House staff. We spent 
days and nights waiting beside the telegraph instrument for 
word from his bedside in Buffalo, sending out for food and 
sleeping in chairs in the office. We almost lynched a callous 
young reporter who wandered in late one evening and re 
marked that he was tired of waiting for the end and wished 
the President would "get it over with." 

When it was all over, we felt that things would never be 
the same again, and we looked forward with extreme uneasi 
ness to the administration of Theodore Roosevelt. We feared 
we would be housed with a sort of wild-eyed man who might 
fire us at once or dispatch us without warning on a big-game 
hunting expedition in Tibet. 

But the famous T.R. came in like a lamb, and in time we 
recovered the feeling that we were all one big family at 
times a boisterous and squabbling family, but never sep 
arated by any severe formality or unnecessary dignity as far 
as the President was concerned. Occasionally, we would 
have given a good deal for a greater degree of separation 
from the rest of the family, but at least there was something 
doing all the time. 



to me that one of the most pleasantly exciting periods 
was the era of the first Roosevelts in the White House. The 
times generally were unforgettable because of such natural 
and historical phenomena as honeymoons at Niagara Falls, 
shirt-waists, and high hair-dos, muckracking, the American 
debut of Caruso, and the inventive daring of Langley, whose 
airplane didn't fly, and the Wright brothers, whose air 
plane did. 

In particular the times were exciting around the White 
House, too, because you never knew what on earth might turn 
up in the next mail delivery, although you could be fairly 
certain that it would be something surprising. The Presi 
dent's love of hunting, especially big-game hunting, and 
other sports prompted persons all over the world to send him 
trophies and, frequently, live animals. We had plenty of 
eagles, dogs, lizards, and even the two beautiful Nubian lions 
from Africa already mentioned, all of which would have made 
a fine start on a private zoo in the mail room. It soon became 
apparent, however, that things were going to be lively enough 
without a zoo at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. 


"Dear Mr. President . . " 

Many letters for T.R. arrived with a drawing or a cartoon 
of him on the envelope, or sometimes with only a toothy 
grin and a large pair of pince-nez spectacles as the only 
address. The Post Office knew where to deliver such letters 
even if the envelope had nothing on it but a drawing of a 
"big stick/' 

But for my money the period was most exciting because, 
in my opinion, T.R. was about twenty years ahead of his 
time. And I say that grudgingly, because his working pace 
certainly interfered with my fishing expeditions and my 
bowling score was a disgrace for lack of practice. 

When T.R. arrived at the White House, he asked us to 
carry on as we had been doing. That, however, was a mere 
figure of speech, because the pace was immediately stepped 
up. He usually got to his desk at 9 A.M., and expected every 
thing to go into high gear at once. That meant I had to get 
to work at least an hour earlier in order to have everything 
ready. Then the whirlwind would begin. 

Mr. Roosevelt wrote to experts everywhere on such subjects 
as conservation and antitrust legislation, and he gathered an 
amazing file of information, ideas, theories, and practical 
suggestions for use in forming his own opinions. No sugges 
tion was too advanced or too trivial for his attention. No 
subject was too esoteric for him; he could and would discuss 
almost anything with anybody and at least give the im 
pression that he was well informed in the field. Often he 

We compiled a record of all of his correspondence, both 
before and after becoming President, and he drew on it freely 


"Dear Mr. President . . . ?> 

in preparation of his speeches. The overtime efforts of the 
whole staff were needed to keep up with him when he was 
preparing a speech. He dictated to Rudolph Forster, the 
executive clerk, and the rest of us brought him records or 
transcribed Forster's shorthand notes in relays. 

His daily routine was almost as hectic, but with certain 
regular breaks. One was when he went to the Cabinet Room 
to be shaved by John Mays, a colored usher who was still at 
the White House when I retired in 1948. Mays would lather 
the President's face and get to work, but something always 
interrupted him. Sometimes a caller would arrive and the 
secretary would inform Mr. Roosevelt, who often had him 
brought into the Cabinet Room to talk while he was still 
being barbered. At other times I would open an important 
letter and take it to him at once and he would hold it out at 
arm's length, squinting his eyes and puffing lather as he read. 
If it was of immediate importance, he would call a secre 
tary and tell him what to say in reply. Mays kept right on at 
his job all the time with inimitable patience and skill. 

Another regular event of the day was T.R/s exercise. It was 
almost always of a violent nature, even when he just went for 
a walk. He would often walk on a rainy day, and he loved to 
wade across streams, tear through underbrush, and roam over 
a few hills. The Secret Service men who had to follow 
wherever he went would come back muddy and in wild dis 
array, and frequently with a bitter and beaten look in their 

On other days, the President played tennis, went horseback 
riding, boxed with his trainer, Sixsmith, or maybe with Mike 


"Dear Mr. President . . .** 

Donovan when Mike was in town. He also tried jujitsu at one 
point, taking lessons from an expert from Japan. 

The President's love of sports and big-game hunting was 
an interesting and, to me, an often amusing story. I've always 
liked sports myself. I pitched some pretty good baseball in my 
day, I could hit a hard tennis ball, and I had killed a score of 
deer before I was fifteen years old. So I always watched and 
listened when the President played or talked sports. 

He had been a sickly child, what he described as "pigeon- 
breasted and asthmatic." But he had plenty of determination 
and boundless courage, and through the years he built him 
self into a rugged hiker, rider, and mountain-climber. His eyes 
were always weak, however, and one of them was damaged 
further as the result of a clumsy encounter during one of his 
White House boxing matches. I never heard it admitted, but 
it seemed to me that he had virtually lost the sight of that eye. 

Many of his tennis matches were played just outside a 
window of our office, and I often watched him in action. His 
approach to the game was as energetic as Suzanne Lenglen's, 
but without the same results. He jumped up and down con 
tinually when he was playing the net, but when the ball 
came his way he was strictly a "pusher" who shoved it in 
the general direction of the net. Since he also sometimes had 
trouble in gauging distances, and since he usually played 
with members of his family who had no respect for his high 
office, the President never made any remarkable impression 
as a racket-wielder. He did, however, get plenty of exercise, 
and his happy cry of "Bully shot!" or "Bully for youl" was the 
best I ever heard on a tennis court 


Mr. President . . . ?> 

I never got a chance to ask the Japanese expert how the 
President did at jujitsu, but at any rate he talked it expertly, 
although less often than he talked o big-game hunting. On 
one of his vacations he made a hunting trip in search of small 
black bears that were found in the cane brakes of Mississippi. 
There was a lot in the newspapers about Mr. Roosevelt's prow 
ess as a hunter, some of it serious and some amusing, and it was 
at that time that Clifford Berryman, the cartoonist for the 
Washington Star, created the famous Teddy bear. There was 
a strange story in some of the newspapers about the Presi 
dent's refusing to shoot a small bear that had been brought 
into camp by a woodsman. Berryman drew a cartoon of T.R., 
gun in hand and Rough Rider hat cocked on his head, mo 
tioning away a wistful, frightened, wonderful little black 
bear. The title was "Drawing the Line/* The little animal, as 
the Teddy bear, became so popular that Berryman frequently 
worked it into his cartoons in succeeding years. 

This was the beginning of the Teddy-bear craze that spread 
everywhere. At first the manufacturers made them princi 
pally for adults, but they were so loved by children that they 
still remain a big seller on the toy market. The toymakers 
later tried various other animals, but never found one com 
parable to the Teddy bear. It was a great publicity stunt for 
Mr. Roosevelt, and he loved it. 

I took a particular interest in the President's hunting 
exploits in general because I was always curious about how 
good a shot he was, and I liked the Teddy-bear mania in 
general because it reminded me of a childhood experience of 
mine in the California mountains near Santa Ynez, when my 


"Dear Mr. President . . ." 

father was first talcing us to that ranch he had bought high 
up in the Cachuma Valley. I was nine years old, and I wore 
a tight-fitting little knitted suit that had been bought in 
East Liverpool, Ohio, where knitted suits were the rage that 
year among the mamas of boys under ten. Among boys 
under ten they were a pain in the neck. 

I had a .22 rifle that my father had foolishly given me, and 
I didn't ask anybody's permission when I got up before break 
fast and left our overnight camp to hunt for bears. I had never 
fired the rifle, and I was still trying to figure out how it 
worked when I met a Mexican about two hundred yards from 
our camp. He was a lean, brown-faced fellow in faded over 
alls, and when I first saw him he was smiling at me as if he 
had never seen anything so odd in the mountains. I scowled 
fiercely to cover up my embarrassment. He immediately be 
came serious and asked where I was going. I replied tersely 
that I was going hunting for bear. 

"Bear?" he repeated, still looking at my tight city suit and 
shaking his head. "Better not. Bears not like to be shot at" 

I wasn't going to be discouraged by any such nonsense as 
that, and I still didn't like the smile that flickered around the 
corners of his mouth. But I did weaken when he said that the 
bears all went far up to the mountaintop in the daytime. 
Anyway, I could smell the bacon frying back at the camp by 
then, and I accepted his suggestion that we walk back and 
get some breakfast. He ate several helpings of bacon as he 
talked over with Mother the dangers of nine-year-olds hunt 
ing bears, but mostly he just kept looking at my knitted suit 
and shaking his head in melancholy amusement. 


"Dear Mr. President . . /* 

He was right. The suit didn't last long in the mountains, 
but I lasted quite a while, including a number of periods 
when I hunted for days by myself and if I didn't kill anything 
I didn't eat. As I remember it, I always ate. I suppose T.R. 
could have killed his own food, too, but I was always puzzled 
by the fact that a man with such poor eyesight could be such 
a famous hunter. Of course, things are made somewhat 
simpler by guides and expert marksmen and beaters when 
the hunter is also the President of the United States. And 
Mr. Roosevelt made up in enthusiasm and bounce for any 
thing that he may have 'been lacking. 

The President not only played games to the limit but he 
was a man of strong opinions (outside his own household), 
and he thought everyone else ought to take his viewpoint 
about sports. He ordered all mounted Army officers at Fort 
Myer to get their spurs off their desk and go on regular riding 
expeditions to show they could still do it. Some of these rides 
were thirty miles, and Mr. Roosevelt went along to be sure 
they didn't take any short cuts. 

On one occasion a couple of small newsboys got in a 
rumpus and exchanged a few blows on a street corner out 
side our office. They were likable kids, and we persuaded 
them to put on boxing gloves in the White House basement 
to settle their quarrel. They did, and word of the encounter 
got to Mr. Roosevelt. He had them brought into his office 
to fight it out. With such an audience, the kids slugged each 
other's brains out for as long as they could stand on their 
feet, and the President cheered them on. 

Every so often one or more of T.R/s famous Rough Riders 


"Dear Mr. President . . .** 

would turn up at the White House, some of them in a rest 
less search for the excitement they had known during the 
war and others in the uncertain hope of speaking again to 
the man who had been their Colonel at San Juan Hill. Their 
reputation was one of the President's political assets, and he 
always managed to make them welcome. Occasionally they 
would be entertained far beyond their greatest expectations 
at the White House, where T.R. always liked to have guests 
when he sat down at the table even if he had to invite what 
ever caller happened to be in the office at the time. 

The Rough Riders were a strange assortment of Indians, 
cowboys, frontiersmen, and college graduates, and some of 
the less stable ones became familiar characters around Wash 
ington. I remember one in picturesque uniform who stayed 
at the old Ebbitt House, where he was usually surrounded 
by a group of idlers. After a few hours of sitting around the 
lobby and spinning yarns he moved out to sit on the curb 
stone. His listeners followed, and one of them asked why he 
had left the lobby. 

"Them danged chairs is too soft for me," he answered. 

Another not-so-soft visitor was Eli Smith, who traveled 
from Nome, Alaska, with a sledge and six dogs to call on 
Mr. Roosevelt. It took him about a year to make the trip 
overland except for a short boat journey and he was sup 
posed to have won a bet of $10,000. The President welcomed 
him and gave him a certificate showing the date of his ar 

In .the same year, 1907, we welcomed Ezra Meeker, who 
drove an ox team and covered wagon from Tacoma, Wash- 


"Dear Mr. President . * .** 

ington. It took him two years. The President had a long talk 
with the grizzled but spry old man. 

In addition to such official visitors, the White House was 
a lively place because of the activities of the Roosevelt 
children and their friends. At home, Mrs. Roosevelt was the 
dominant member of that family, and she believed that 
children ought to be allowed to express themselves and 
develop their own personalities. There was so much self- 
expression and so much personality around the place that 
at times it seemed likely Congress would be forced to settle 
the old quarrel over building a new White House because the 
old one was going to be torn apart. 

The boys Kermit, Archie, Teddy, and Quentin were en 
couraged to be athletic, and when several of them engaged 
in a rousing game of cowboy and Indian they regarded not 
only the living quarters but the halls and offices as the wide 
open range. They went through like a small cyclone, or per 
haps a charge up San Juan HilL They played soldier with 
the tops of garbage cans for shields and wooden sticks for 
swords, and their favorite point of attack was likely to be the 
shins of a busy clerk or stenographer. They were dead shots 
with a beanshooter, and their most frequent target was the 
shining bald head of one of the telegraph operators. On 
occasion, outsiders suffered, too, as when Kermit hid behind 
some bushes and threw mud on passing carriages. 

I suppose it is only logical to say that the staff regarded 
them as spoiled brats, but their mother seldom reprimanded 
them, and never allowed them to be punished, because it 
might retard the natural development of their personalities. 


"Dear Mr. President . . " 

Sometimes this built up in the staff a keen desire to indulge 
in a little self-expression of our own. 

One Sunday Ethel Roosevelt, who was then about twelve 
years old, came into the offices swinging an inch-thick stick 
that had been cut off a tree and trimmed. She walked up to 
Jim Smithers, the chief telegrapher and telephone operator, 
who was reading a newspaper and had his feet up on the 

"Smithers," she said, "put up the tennis net for me." 

He didn't care much for the way she said it and paid no 

"Did you hear me?" she demanded. 

Smithers said he was not permitted to leave his post. 

"So you refuse?'* 

Ethel raised the stick it had rough little knobs on it where 
the branches had been trimmed and whammed Smithers 
on the shins with all her strength, cutting his leg. Smithers 
expressed his personality by grabbing her and turning her 
across his lap, face down, and giving her a few lusty whacks 
with his hand on the most available spot. She howled, and just 
then Smithers looked up and saw T.R. standing in the door 
way watching. The President walked over and grabbed Ethel 
by the shoulder and put her out the door. 

"Didn't I tell you/' he said, "never to come in these offices?" 

He never said a word to Smithers, who called me into his 
office to see the cut. Where a knob on the stick had dug into 
his shin, a scar always remained. 

Once when Archie was sick, his brothers decided that 
something should be done to cheer him up. The best idea 


"Dear Mr. President . . ." 

they could generate was that he would like to see his Shet 
land pony. The White House stables were then about half 
way down to the Potomac, and the boys were in the habit of 
riding their spotted pony up to the yard, so nobody paid any 
attention when they arrived on this occasion. They led the 
pony in through the basement door and brought the elevator 
down to that level. The docile beast entered with no diffi 
culties, but, as I remember the incident, the elevator stuck 
between floors on the way up to Archie's room. It took the 
combined efforts of the Secret Service men and the ushers 
to get them down and out again, and I, for one, always rather 
regretted their failure. It was a good brotherly sentiment. 

Almost everybody around the White House liked animals 
in that period. The President had a little bulldog he was fond 
of, but it had an overdeveloped sense of its own importance. 
On one occasion it took a dislike to Ambassador Jusserand of 
France, a frequent guest, and attacked him as he was leaving 
the grounds. The newspapers reported that the dog had 
chased the Ambassador up a tree, but I'm not sure that it 
did more than tear one leg of his trousers which was msult 
enough, because Jusserand was a dapper little Frenchman 
with a trim Vandyke beard. 

Anyway, the dog became something of a celebrity, and a 
short tinie later one of the reporters wrote a story about how 
it had been disgracefully licked by a stray cur that wandered 
into the grounds. After reading the story, a man out in 
Ohio sent T.R. a letter saying that he had shipped him a dog 
that "can lick any dog in the world/* The animal arrived three 
days later, and I opened the box and let him out. He im- 


"Dear Mr. President . . ." 

mediately ran around the office sprinkling every desk and 
the legs of most of the staff. I shoved him quickly out a 
window and then went out and put a rope around his neck. 
He was a strange-looking creature, with the long head of a 
bull terrier, the shoulders of a bulldog, a short body, powerful 
legs, and a short tail. 

"Let's see him," the President said when I told him of the 
gift. He gave the dog a long puzzled look, and asked: 
"WhatTl we do with him?" 

Jim Smithers, the chief telegrapher, asked for him and 
got him. In collaboration with Bob Anderson, a tall, red 
headed Negro messenger, the dog was matched in a number 
of dog fights with sizable betting. The Ohio dog didn't fool 
around about his fighting. He would feint the other dog out 
of position, dive in, and clamp his teeth into the back of his 
foe's neck and, with a mighty tug, hurl him over his shoulder. 
The other dog was nearly always dead when he hit the 

Of all the Roosevelt children, I felt that Quentin, who lost 
his life as an aviator in World War I, was the most likable as 
a child. He was a chubby little boy at that time, and he 
collected autographs. I saved many signatures, including 
those of foreign dignitaries, for him, until he finally decided 
to give up the hobby. When he did give it up he was at 
Oyster Bay, and he sent me his collector's book with a little 
note saying that he w^s tired of it but he thought I might 
want to carry on. 

Alice was, of course, the most talked-about of the children. 
But she was older and we didn't see much of her around 

"Dear Mr. President . . " 

the executive office. She and the Countess Cassini spent a 
great deal of time shocking Washington society by smoking 
and going unchaperoned. I must say she was a handsome 
figure when she was dressed up in the smart clothes of that 
day, which, as I remember, included a dashing broad- 
brimmed hat tipped over one eye. Her wedding to Nicholas 
Longworth was a newspaper sensation for days, and gifts, 
including some rare snakes and a hogshead of popcorn, 
poured into the White House from all over the United States 
and from many foreign countries. 

"Princess" Alice, as she was called, didn't get along 
especially well with Mrs. Roosevelt, who was her step 
mother. My sympathies were on Alice's side. One reason 
was that I felt that Mrs. Roosevelt had a rather overbearing 
attitude toward the staff in general and, as a result of one 
incident, toward me in particular. 

I played baseball in college and have always kept up with 
the game. Several of us had a habit of playing catch on 
the White House lawn during the luncheon hour in the 
McKinley administration, and with the full approval of Mr. 
McKinley. The first time we did it after T.R. came in, Mrs. 
Roosevelt looked out the window and was shocked to see 
young men with their coats off disporting themselves on Tier** 
lawn. Mrs. Roosevelt called the office and told off Rudolph 
Forster, the executive clerk, who assured her that it would 
not happen again. She was not satisfied, however, and she 
telegraphed to the President, who at the time was out in 
Yellowstone National Park. T.R. replied that a reprimand 
was being dispatched, but that still wasn't enough. Mrs. 


"Dear Mr. President . . /' 

Roosevejt felt that we ought to be deprived of our annual 
leave. The President eventually agreed with her and issued 
the order, but when the time came it was not enforced. We 
didn't ever feel that T.R., in view of his own love of athletics, 
took the offense very seriously. 

Throughout his administration Mr. Roosevelt showed him 
self to be a keen student of publicity and an able hand at em 
ploying it to achieve his ends. He also enjoyed coining new 
phrases and words, of which "Tread softly and carry a big 
stick" was the most successful. Another that he used many 
times was "nature fakirs," a term he aimed at journalist- 
adventurers who wrote about impossible experiences with 
wild animals or of incredible journeys in distant lands. 

It was in the Roosevelt administration that the idea of 
press conferences began to emerge, particularly after T.R. 
had the executive-office wing added to the White House. 
But even before the offices were moved from the second 
floor he would occasionally talk to the reporters who were 
waiting in our office for news or to buttonhole callers. This 
custom did not start off with any appreciation of the im 
portance that was to be attained by modern White House 
press conferences, but T.R. soon realized the value of per 
sonally giving the news to all the reporters at the same time, 
and he made good use of the system to get his viewpoint 
across to the public. 

He would wait until there was some announcement to 
hand out in typewritten form and then he would step into 
the corridor and get the reporters together, explaining to 
them his ideas on the subject. It was nothing like the give- 


"Dear Mr. President . . /* 

and-take of today's press conferences. The President was a 
man who didn't appreciate interruptions, and who sometimes 
seemed to use his high position to talk down anyone who 
disagreed with him. There were never any embarrassing 
questions asked by reporters in those days. 

There were no telephones for reporters, either, and when 
ever news broke at the White House there would be a mad 
scramble down the twisting stairway to the ground floor, 
where the President's statement would be handed to waiting 
bicycle messengers, who pedaled off furiously to the news 
paper offices. 

T.R. was impatient with many of the stereotyped methods 
of government operation, and it was his custom to order 
quick and drastic changes when they came to his attention. 
During the period when he was Civil Service Commissioner 
he came across the examination that was standard for persons 
seeking jobs as mounted inspectors along the Rio Grande 
River. The questions covered history, rhetoric, and mathe 
matics, and Mr. Roosevelt disgustedly tore it up and wrote 
a new set of questions himself. His questions covered such 
problems as how to break a wild horse and how to han 
dle a cow pony that had been turned loose to graze for six 

"You don't need to know algebra or the latitude of Zanzibar 
for that job," he barked. "I'm only sorry I can't add to the 
test a requirement that each applicant lasso, throw,, and tie a 
steer in twenty seconds.'* 

He also was one of the foremost advocates of simplified 
spelling, using such words as nite, thot, tho, and thru in his 


"Dear Mr. President . * /* 

letters. Lots of people wrote in to encourage ids spelling 
campaign, but there were plenty of complaints, too. 

We developed a great fondness for Mr. Roosevelt, despite 
tlie extra work lie piled on the staff, because he was always 
fair and courteous and he worked even harder than we did. 
When he left the White House it was typical that he should 
call us together and make a little speech. It was always in 
teresting to hear him speak, because he had a peculiar style 
that was marked by long pauses between sentences or in the 
middle of a sentence, after which he would rattle off a string 
of staccato words like a burst from a machine gun. Frequently 
they were surprising words, too. 

"Gentlemen/* he said, when we had assembled, "I want to 
express my earnest appreciation of the services that you have 
rendered. . . .** A long pause while he gave us a friendly 
big-tooth smile. "I have often thought you would have been 
warranted in getting up a conspiracy to assassinate me be 
cause of the way I have worked you!" Another pause. "I 
wouldn't have blamed you at all. Now, I do not wish to leave 
without having the pleasure of shaking hands with each of 
you individually." 

We were sorry to see him go, although we were not exactly 
depressed by the departure of the rest of the family partic 
ularly the kids. But we didn't realize that with T.R. went 
an atmosphere that would never be wholly recaptured around 
the White House. The feeling that we were one big family 
was soon to end. We were getting too big almost too big for 
our britches. 

We didn't know that, however, when we first met Mr. Taf t. 


"Dear Mr. President . . /* 

We didn't know how much. Mr. Taft enjoyed dancing and 
social affairs, even though his great weight made his feet 
hurt on such occasions. We didn't know about his love of 
food, or how irritated he could become when forced to diet. 
We were ignorant of a lot of things when the Taf ts moved in. 
Why, we didn't even know that it was supposed to be Mrs. 
Taft who really liked the idea of living in the White House 
and who was largely responsible for her husband's succession 
to T.R. 




[ to be President of the United States. Or should I say 
especially if he is President of the United States? 

I don't hesitate about saying it, because of the nine Presi 
dents I've seen in action at the White House all have had 
their personal woes, just as I've had mine. Now my trouble 
is that I like to bet on the race horses. When it comes to 
picking a winner in the fifth race at Havre de Grace, I'd 
rather be right than President. It's been a lot of fun, but at 
times it has meant a lot of trouble, too. Just like being 

The troubles of William Howard Taf t, however, were not 
the usual presidential woes that became familiar to me. One 
of Mr. Taft's troubles was food. He loved it, and the more 
food he could get, the more he loved it. The rub was that after 
he moved into the White House, his doctor and Mrs. Taft 
were constantly on the alert to enforce a diet that would get 
rid of some of his surplus poundage. Mrs. Taft might reason 
ably be described as a strong-minded woman. She took diet- 


"Dear Mr. President . . ? 

ing seriously for the President and this led to a lot of talk 
that in a less famous household might have been called 

The President dieted, all right, but not when he could 
escape supervision. I remember once when I accompanied 
him on a journey to Ohio. When we got on the train, leaving 
the doctor and Mrs. Taft behind, the President began to 
perk up. He also apparently began to think about food, 
although it was then ten o'clock in the evening. Wilbur 
Hinman, a stenographer, and I were in the observation sec 
tion of Mr. Taft's special car going through telegrams and 
letters when the President appeared at the door of his sitting 
room. A pleasant smile turned the corners of his mouth. I 
took one look and knew what was on his mind. 
"Anybody seen the conductor?" he asked. 
The conductor came a-running. 

"The dining car . * ." Mr. Taft began shyly. "Could we 
get a snack?" 

The conductor looked surprised. "Why, Mr. President, 
there isn't any dining car on this train/' 

The President's sun-tanned face turned pink, with perhaps 
a few splashes of purple. His normally prominent eyes seemed 
to bulge. 

"Norton!" he called in a cold voice. "Mr. Norton!" 
Charles D. Norton, a tall, good-looking, and well-dressed 
man, appeared from the next compartment. He was Mr. 
Taff s secretary, and he probably had been given special in 
structions by Mrs. Taft in regard to the President's diet on 
the trip. 


"Dear Mr. President . . ." 

"Mr. Norton/* the President said, "there is no diner on this 

Norton agreed that there was no diner. He reminded Mr. 
Taft that they had had dinner at the White House, and 
assured him that they would not go without breakfast He 
recalled that the President's doctor had warned him about 
eating between meals. The President brushed him aside, 
turning back to the conductor. 

"What's the next stop, dammit?" he asked. "The next stop 
where there's a diner?" 

The conductor believed that would be Harrisburg. Mr. 
Taft glared at Norton and addressed the conductor: 

"I am President of the United States, and I want a diner 
attached to this train at Harrisburg. I want it well stocked 
with food, including filet mignon. You see that we get a 
diner/' He silenced the secretary's protests with a roar. 
"What's the use of being President," he demanded, "if you 
can't have a train with a diner on it?" 

Norton gave up. The diner was attached at Harrisburg 
in the middle of the night, and the President had the news 
papermen advised that it was open to them. He sat in his own 
car for a long time, partaking of refreshments. He seemed to 
be in high good humor. Personally, I applauded him for his 
humanness in kicking over the traces when he had the op 

The problem of food harassed Mr. Taft throughout his 
administration, and I always felt that it added considerably 
to his unhappiness with the high office he occupied. But it 
was only one of his woes. He could have doubled Harry 


"Dear Mr. President . . " 

Truman in spades when the Missourian once remarked that 
he hadn't ever wanted to be President. 

Even inaugural day was a bad one for Mr. Taft. A heavy 
rain that turned to sticky wet snow swept over Washington 
and filled the streets with slush. A number of stands for 
spectators had been built in front of the Treasury, the State 
Department, and the White House, but only the White House 
seats were covered. The storm stopped in the morning, but 
conditions were so bad that few spectators wanted to sit in 
the uncovered stands, and there was frantic bidding for 
protected places in front of the White House. 

Each member of the staff had been given four seats in 
the covered stands, and I know that one clerk turned a neat 
profit by calling at the expensive hotels until he found a 
wealthy New York woman who paid $250 for his tickets. 
Many persons who had come to Washington especially for 
the inauguration did not even leave their hotels because of 
the weather. The afternoon before the ceremonies, a man 
bundled up in a huge fur coat drove his automobile up close 
to the presidential stands and climbed up on the seat of the 
car to wave a handful of currency at several of us who were 
standing in the White House driveway. 

"I'll pay a thousand dollars for four seats in these stands," 
he shouted. 

I was tempted, but my knowledge of the Secret Service 
objections to unidentified persons near the President con 
vinced me that I should hold onto my tickets. 

With the inauguration over, Mr. Taft took comparatively 
little interest in the staff except to make it clear that the fewer 


"Dear Mr. President . . ." 

matters there were requiring his personal attention, the better 
he would like it. He didn't read letters if he could avoid it, 
and only the most important ones ever reached him. Even 
these were hriefed so he could get through them quickly. 
I do not mean that Mr. Taf t neglected the duties of his office, 
but his great interest was in the law courts (where he served 
so brilliantly) and he was not attracted to many of the 
routine details of life in the White House. It was also a rel 
atively quiet period in history, and his inclination was to let 
uninteresting matters slide along. In many cases this gave the 
impression that he was discourteous, if I may state the facts 

There were times when the waiting room and the office 
of his secretary Fred Carpenter was the first one would 
become overcrowded with visitors while the President pro 
longed a conversation with some friend whom he particularly 
enjoyed. Carpenter would fuss and fret and tender apologies 
to important but stranded callers, and occasionally he would 
appear at the door of Mr. Taft's office to remind him that 
visitors with definite appointments were waiting. Often he 
was ignored. 

Naturally, many callers became incensed, and a consider 
able number of them were important political figures in their 
own localities. Some men who had traveled a long distance 
to see the President would be kept waiting for several days. 
Frequently they went home in disgust without ever getting 
into Mr. Taft's office. 

Politicians were not the only ones kept waiting outside 
Mr. Taf t's door. I recall one occasion when a group from the 
Metropolitan Opera was appearing in Washington and it was 


"Dear Mr. President . . ." 

arranged for them to visit the President. They were an un 
usual group in those days, predominantly foreigners and 
predominantly long on temperament and short on funds. The 
male members of the group wore rather shiny blue suits and 
appeared to have gone too long without a haircut. The 
women were perhaps better dressed, but they blended into 
a nondescript off-stage picture as they took chairs in the 
lobby of the executive office to await Mr. Taff s pleasure. 

They waited quite a while, patiently and with a quiet 
acceptance of delay that contrasted with the irritability of 
most American callers, who expected punctuality even from 
the head of the state. I noticed in particular one placid 
woman with a broad, pleasant face. There was something 
very familiar and very warm about her, but I couldn't seem 
to get it straight in my mind. 

After half an hour of waiting there was a flurry at the 
main door, where a handsome limousine with a liveried 
chauffeur had drawn up. Then in swept Mary Garden, 
glistening with jewels, draped in furs and satin and looking 
like a million dollars. Escorted by Senator Frelinghuysen, she 
walked straight to the President's office and the door closed 
behind her leaving the rest of the Opera group sitting just 
where they were. Miss Garden reappeared and departed in 
another sunburst of glamour about thirty minutes later and 
then the others were shown into Mr. Taft's office to shake 

When they came out, I again noticed the pleasant, broad- 
browed woman and I nudged one of the clerks as she passed. 

"She looks familiar," I said. "Who is she?" 

He smiled cynically. "Oh, nobody much,'* he said with 

"Dear Mr. President , . .** 

broad sarcasm, "Just the greatest singer alive Madame 
Schumann-Heinle. No glamour." 

Now I do not presume to suggest that these incidents were 
the result of intentional rudeness on the part of the President. 
But it was obvious on various occasions that, for one reason 
or another, Mr. Taf t passed up opportunities to make friends 
and influence people, particularly those on the White House 
staff. It had been customary, for instance, for the President 
to give each of the White House employees a Christmas gift. 
Mr. McKinley gave each member of the staff a photograph or 
a book. Theodore Roosevelt gave each clerk a $5 gold piece, 
and each policeman and messenger got a turkey. 

When this custom was brought to Mr. Taf t*s attention at 
the proper time, he remarked: "I don't see why I should have 
to give them anything/' And he didn't, so far as the clerical 
staff was concerned. And after all, why should he? 

The President enjoyed playing golf, and on a sunny after 
noon he might break all appointments on short notice and 
take off for the links with several friends. If this meant putting 
off the call of some political bigwig or delaying the date on 
which he received an ambassador, it did not appear to bother 
the President unduly. Nor did it impress him that the staff 
was often forced to sit idly awaiting his return from the golf 
links or from a late afternoon automobile ride in order to 
wind up the business of the day and get home, perhaps at 
9 P.M., to a cold dinner. 

These conditions were particularly acute during the first 
part of Mr. Taft's administration. Eventually, the President's 
political advisers began to worry about the unfavorable re 
action that had set in among disgruntled politicians. Some of 


"Dear Mr. President . . " 

them blamed Carpenter, a mild but pleasant man wliom 
Mr. Taft had brought to the White House when he was in 
augurated. I never felt that Carpenter was particularly at 
fault, except that he always wanted to please the President 
and thus was ineffective in trying to correct the situation that 
had arisen. 

In any even, the advisers decided that a new secretary was 
essential, and they wanted a "live wire" who could put the 
pieces together again and bring some order into the White 
House routine. They decided their man was Charles D. Nor 
ton, an up-and-coming man who was then Assistant Secretary 
of the Treasury. I think all of us were ready to welcome any 
change, believing it could only be for the better, but we 
didn't know what was in store for us. 

Norton had a reputation for doing three things at once, 
and he also had the energy and the boldness to try to live up 
to that reputation, sometimes with strange results. He was 
the first modern efficiency expert I had ever seen in action, 
and I'm afraid that my reaction was to wish for a return to 
the catch-as-catch-can days of the gay nineties. His first 
move was to advise us that he wanted men with brains and 
a college background on die staff. He didn't inquire whether 
any of us had either, but it was clear that there was to be a 

Now I have nothing against efficiency or bustle or brains, 
but I don't like to overdo any of them, and I feel that a fellow's 
morale may be improved by an occasional week-end fishing 
trip down the Potomac. Under Norton's supervision it was 
clear that I wasn't going to be called upon to do much re 
laxing. My working hours increased from 7:30 in the morning 


"Dear Mr. President . . " 

to 6 in the evening, and after dinner from 9 to midnight. In 
winter I never saw my wife or baby in daylight except on 
Sunday, when I only worked from 9:30 A.M. to 3 P.M. In order 
to speed things up, Norton presented me with ten little 
rubber stamps that were to be used for letters which I for 
warded to the various departments. The dates had to be 
changed each day with a pair of tweezers, and it was so much 
quicker to write the name of the department on each letter 
that I never used them. 

Norton took an immediate dislike to Wendell Mischler, 
who was Mr. Taft's personal stenographer. He dictated 
Mischler s resignation to Mischler, told him to "sign it and 
give it to me." 

Mischler said he would do nothing of the sort. He walked 
out, and for the next two weeks he tried to get to see the 
President Several times he went to the front door of the 
White House after Mr. Taf t left his office, but Norton had 
apparently given orders for him to be refused admittance 
even though he was a personal friend of Mrs. Taft. 

Finally, A. I. Vorhys, Republican national committeeman 
from Ohio, came to see the President and Mischler told him 
his story. 

"Come with me/' Vorhys said, adding a few choice bits of 
profanity. Norton tried to stop them when they got to the 
door of the President's office, but Vorhys shoved him aside 
and they walked in. Vorhys explained the situation. 

"Is this your wish, Mr. President?" he asked. 

Mr. Taft looked at him in surprise and replied: "Why, 
Mischler is the last man I would want to see go." 

Needless to say, this sort of thing did not make Norton 


"Dear Mr. President . . ." 

popular in the office. Since I read all his mail, it would have 
been almost impossible for me not to have known his busi 
ness pretty thoroughly, especially his financial affairs, and it 
wasn't difficult either to learn of long-distance conversations 
through the switchboard operators. He had been associated 
with a large life insurance company before coming to the 
White House, and he was still receiving large sums in com 
missions from past sales. He was interested in a South Ameri 
can bond issue in which some powerful financiers were lend 
ing a hand. When a man is unpopular with his office force, 
he is usually watched, but there was nothing unethical in 
Mr. Norton's operations. It is well known that many promi 
nent persons come into government service at a small salary 
because they are considered valuable material for the partic 
ular job, and they continue their outside interests with full 
official approval 

While the South American negotiations were in progress, 
Norton warned all of us, "This is strictly confidential, and if 
any word of it gets out I will find out who did it and fire the 
guilty person/* Since we had been handling confidential 
matters for years without any leaks, we naturally resented 
this attitude, and Arthur Leonard, one of the office corre 
spondents, told Norton, "I don't know -whether I want to 
work here any longer/* 

As a matter of fact, this story did leak out, but not through 
our office. Bob Small, a reporter for the New York Stm, wrote 
it prior to any announcement, and Norton was furious, 

"Your paper will fire you for that," te told Small. "They 
won't stand for such inaccuracies/* 

*TH bet you a dinner for all the correspondents that I am 


"Dear Mr. President . . ." 

correct and that I'm not fired/ 3 Small replied. Norton, to keep 
up his bluff, had to take the bet, and later paid off at a dinner 
that Mr. Taf t attended. 

By this time Norton apparently had decided to fire me. 
He brought in W. Stoddard, an editor of the Youth's Com 
panion, to study my job, but after two months Stoddard gave 
up in disgust and left, telling Norton that I didn't need any 
"editorial" help. 

A little later I was in the office early one morning and just 
happened to glance through a stack of letters on Norton's 
desk. They showed that he had arranged for an increase in 
his own salary and in certain others, but had decided not to 
give me a promotion and a raise that I had been promised 
sometime before. I made up my mind then to have it out 
with him. When he came to work, I went into his office and 
demanded an explanation. He refused to talk about it and 
tried to send me back to my desk. I didn't go. A couple of 
Senators came by to see the President and I stood there until 
they had gone in and then I resumed my prodding of Norton. 
Other visitors came, but I just waited until they left and 
kept insisting on an answer. Norton became very angry, but 
not angry enough to carry out his threats to fire me. 

There was a reason for this. The Cleveland Economy Com 
mittee, which was appointed by Mr. Taf t, had been making 
a thorough investigation of the executive branch of the 
Government The committee had given my particular job a 
high rating, but there was still some question about their 
over-all recommendations. One of the committee members, 
M. O. Chance, came to my defense when he learned of my 


"Dear Mr. President . . " 

difficulties with Norton, and after he had talked with the 
secretary, my position became less uncertain, although I did 
not get my promotion until sometime later. 

Soon after this it was announced that Norton was resign 
ing from the government post to become a vice-president of 
a big New York bank. He left without a formal farewell to 
the staff, but some of us knew when he was going and we 
managed to gather near the door. As he went out, we 
hummed the Doxology. 

I explain the Norton episode in some detail not so much 
because of my personal feelingsalthough they were bitter 
at the timebut because it was a turning point in the evolu 
tion of the White House staff. The small, intimate group 
that had previously gathered devotedly around the President 
and had considered itself on familiar terms with him was 
never completely restored. This was not entirely a result of 
Norton's operations, although they delineated the change. 
The fact was that the office of die Presidency was becoming 
too big and too busy to permit continuance of the old set-up. 
Somewhere in Taf t's administration the one-big-family atmos 
phere faded out, and when Woodrow Wilson became Presi 
dent, the times had changed and we were in a busy office 
that had little chance for byplay, gossip, or an occasional 
game of craps in the basement. 

Charles Hilles, who succeeded Norton, was a remarkable 
man, and no secretary could have been more thoughtful of 
the staff. We liked him and worked hard for him, but we had 
been through a bad year and we couldn't swing back into 
the old pace. After Norton, I never called the secretaries by 


"Dear Mr. President , . ." 

their first names in the office although some of them I knew 
well and addressed familiarly outside the White House. 

One day the Secret Service came around and showed me 
a couple of letters that had been passed on to them by Mrs. 
Taft's secretary. They were addressed to the President's 
daughter, Helen, and were signed by a mail we will call Jones 
and who lived in Kentucky. He had aever seen Helen Taf t, 
but he had been reading stories about her in the newspapei j 
and had come to the cockeyed conclusion that they were 
engaged to be married. The letters were written in respectful 
if endearing terms. The only thing wrong with them was that 
Jones assumed that Helen was in love with him and making 
wedding preparations. He added that he wanted to come to 
Washington to see her soon. 

I took a good look at the handwriting and said I would 
watch for any future letters and hold them out of the family's 
personal mail. Another one arrived a few days later, saying 
Jones would be in Washington to see his "fiancee." I sent it 
over to the Secret Service, and not long afterward they picked 
up a sandy-haired, freckled little man at the White House 
door and brought him over to the office. It was Jones, aU 
right. He was the most inoffensive fellow you could imagine. 
He was thin and not very tall, and there was a rather con 
fused look on his face, but nothing else to suggest that he 
was unbalanced. He merely wanted to discuss wedding plans 
with his "fiancee." I pointed out to him that he had never 
seen Miss Taft, and that his attempts to see her were em 
barrassing, but he insisted that she knew all about their 


"Dear Mr. President . . " 

"Just let me see her/* he kept saying earnestly. "She knows 
how we love each other. She will tell you." 

We got in touch with his relatives in Kentucky and found 
out that he was a man of some wealth. His relatives ap 
parently didn't want to offend him, but they promised to see 
that he ceased writing to the White House. Either he was too 
smart for them or they were timid, because he made another 
trip to Washington, and again was sent home. His letters 
kept coming, and I noticed that one of them said he was 
sending Helen a pledge of their "engagement." 

Some days later a small package arrived from a town in 
Ohio. It had been damaged in transit and the post office in 
sisted that I open it and sign a receipt. It contained a diamond 
ring worth perhaps a couple of hundred dollars, but there 
was nothing to identify the sender. It was addressed to Helen 
and I sent it along to her. Then I got to thinking about 
Jones's promise of a pledge and I had it returned to me. 
The handwriting was that of Jones; he had tried to fool us by 
going over into Ohio to mail the package from an unfamiliar 
address. This time the Secret Service put on the pressure, and 
the family ended Jones's inclination to throw his money 
around by taking legal action to have him put away. 

Meanwhile my mother had come East, and we lived in the 
little town of Falls Church, Virginia, about an hour's trolley 
ride from the White House. Washington was a slow and 
sleepy place in those days. Rubber-tired carriages rolled 
sedately along streets where the only noise was the clop of 
horses* hoofs, the infrequent rumble of a streetcar, or the 
clatter of a beer truck. 


"Dear Mr. President . . ." 

There were no movies, but there were plenty of bars with 
their free-lunch counters well stocked. For a quart of beer 
costing 5 cents you could get an excellent meal of boiled 
eggs, ham, cheese, and other delicacies. There was a custom 
in the better Washington hotels at that time that on Christmas 
the first drink was on the house. The usual drink was Tom 
and Jerry. The young blades of the town, always dressed in 
correct formal morning clothes, made the rounds of the 
hotels on Christmas morning, accumulating a sizable binge 
for free. This was considered a smart thing to do in those 
days, just as on Easter it was the smart thing to parade 
and watch the parade on Connecticut Avenue. 

I may have preferred the Christmas custom at the time, 
but now I recall the Easter parade more clearly, perhaps 
for obvious reasons, I didn't take any great part in social 
affairs in those days, but there was a girl who lived in Falls 
Church whom I took to. I squired her around a bit, and she 
was much better than I at identifying the prominent Easter 
paraders. There were so many plumes waving around and 
so many handsome carriages on those occasions that I 
had only a vague notion of who was who. In fact, the pro 
fusion of plumes on ladies' hats in those days was quite a 
problem at the White House receptions, because they all 
removed their hats when they arrived and about a thousand 
hatboxes were needed as a regular thing. 

Well, the girl was interested in such goings-on, so I took 
an interest in them too, and for a while I was spending less 
time at the bowling alley and more time on the road between 
my house and hers in Falls Church. This old Revolutionary 


"Dear Mr. President . . " 

town had an East End and a West End, which, were about 
a mile and a half apart, and of course she lived at one end 
and I lived at the other, so that it sometimes seemed to me 
I was spending all my time walking that mile and a half in 
the evenings. This was almost too much exercise for me, and 
I didn't waste a lot of time before I began getting on the 
subject of wedding bells. 

It was along about this time that I had an amusing ex 
perience, although at the time I didn't think it was funny. 
I don't suppose I did anything in particular to keep my 
fiancee from being impressed by the fact that I worked at the 
White House. One evening after we had become engaged, 
she came by the office when I was working late and ex 
pressed a desire to see the desk at which President Taf t did 
his work. I told her that I could arrange it with no trouble 
at all. Then I checked around and found that everyone else 
had left the executive offices and I boldly led her into the 
President's working room. 

She seemed sufficiently impressed by my influence, so I 
showed her around, pointing out pictures and ornaments of 
interest. In one corner there was a huge vase of roses, and 
I decided to give her one of them as a memento. When I tried 
to pull one out, the whole vase tumbled to the floor, spilling 
water on a pile of army commissions that the President had 
already signed and how he hated the tiresome task of sign 
ing them! 

I got the vase and the flowers back where they belonged 
and wiped up the floor, but when I took a good look at the 
stack of commissions I knew they were ruined. I thought 


"Dear Mr. President . . " 

maybe I was ruined too, because in view of the trouble I had 
been having with Norton it seemed likely that he would be 
happy to fire me if he discovered my misadventure at night 
in the President's office. I was plenty worried. 

I removed the commissions and hid them in my desk. Then 
the next morning I called up the department and told them to 
send over duplicates. When they arrived, I merely sneaked 
them in with others that had come in for the President's 
signature, and nobody ever knew the difference. Poor Mr. 
Taft! He had to sign a big stack of commissions twice, but 
he still had me. 

During the Taft administration we began to improve 
further the method of handling the presidential mail, 
especially to reduce the number of original letters that the 
President had to read and to save his having to read many 
newspapers. The method I worked out was to lay the mail 
out in piles, according to subject and importance, as it was 
being opened. Then when the opening and the reading were 
completed, I typed a brief of the important letters and made 
a list of the subjects and of the names of the writers. This 
list I sent to the President, and then I turned the actual 
letters over to his secretaries for acknowledgment or 

This meant that the President saw a list of perhaps sixty 
letters written to him, with the name and the home town of 
each writer and a brief description of the contents of the 
letter. He could quickly run through the list and familiarize 
himself with the correspondence in a general way, and then 
he could read in full any letters of particular interest to him. 


"Dear Mr. President . . " 

I still have some of these summaries and I note the following 
in the list of September 28, 1910, as examples: 

E. L. sends the President copies and originals of some old letters 
written to and by members of Lincoln's Cabinet. She also asks for 
the clerkship. 

Solon Philbrick recommends A. K. Vickers to Supreme Court. 

W. MacD. wants a job. Has been in real estate. 

I. J. G. writes a would-be humorous letter of advice. 

J. H. B. of Cincinnati hopes that his sister-in-law, in the Census 
Bureau, will be promoted. 

S. K. H. of Middletown wishes the President had listened to 
his political advice given some time ago. Thinks the President is 
in a bad way. 

P. S. Bullen, American representative of the London Daily 
Telegraph, wants the President to send a message by a proposed 
airship voyage to King George. The airship leaves Atlantic City 
shortly for England. Although Walter Wellman is to be on board, 
the writer thinks that the trip will be a success. 

Mrs. O. of Bridgeport, Conn., wants to know if the President 
was in the White House between Sept 1st and 15th. The husband 
of her niece claims that he was introduced to the President in the 
Blue Room sometime during that period. She thinks that the man 
is a liar and that he has squandered his mother-in-law's money as 

An old ex-slave, now blind and poor, sends in his bill of sale 
because his old master once said: "These might some day be of 
use to you. He wants help; doesn't specify what. 

In addition to this daily summary I compiled the so-called 
"yellow journal," which was made up of long sheets of paper 
on which were pasted news articles and editorials that might 
be of interest to the President, thus relieving him of the 
necessity of plowing through the various newspapers. I also 
kept a ledger in which I recorded the letters that were f or- 


"Dear Mr. President . . ." 

warded to the various governmental departments for answer 
and in this administration I took over the handling of all 
packages and periodicals. My job, which had started out on 
a small scale, was becoming so big that it kept me working 
many times until far into the night. 

Another thing that added to my work in those days was 
the picture-post-card craze. This actually began back in 
the McKinley administration when Americans traveling in 
Europe began sending back post cards to friends in the 
United States. The President, of course, received a great 
many of the most elaborate cards, and some of them were 
really works of art. Lots of them, however, were crude affairs 
something like a cartoon. The craze rapidly spread and we 
received them from all over this country as well as from 

Persons who sent post cards in those days, however, seemed 
to have no more to say than persons who send post cards 
today, so that the messages scribbled on them were of 
secondary importance, to say the least. As a result no one at 
the White House was much interested in the fact that Cousin 
Sue "wishes ayou were here," and we tossed them aside for 
the most part. I used to have a krge box in which I dropped 
such cards, and eventually it occurred to me that they might 
be a valuable collection after a number of years. I kept on 
saving them until one day I examined the box, which was in 
the basement, and discovered that mice had eaten away 
what might have been a rich cache. 

After Franklin Roosevelt came to the White House, in 
cidentally, all picture post cards and greeting cards except 


"Dear Mr. President . . /* 

those from personal friends were stored away and later sent 
to children's hospitals, where the children cut out the pic 
tures to paste into scrapbooks as a part of the therapeutic 

Mrs. Taft was one of the women for whom the White 
House proved disappointing. She was able and ambitious, 
with a keen knowledge of political methods. Her husband's 
inclination was toward the law courts, but Mrs. Taft had her 
eyes on the White House. She arrived, therefore, as a "power 
behind the throne/* and she seemed to take that responsibility 
very earnestly. The Tafts loved to entertain, but within a 
year or so Mrs. Taft was stricken by an illness that affected 
her speech, and she was forced to curtail her activities. 

One of the most talked-about affairs given by the Tafts was 
in celebration of their silver-wedding anniversary. Prepara 
tions for the party, which was to be held on the White House 
lawn, were discussed in great detail in the newspapers, and 
there was some feeling that the occasion was being overdone. 
Gifts came in from all over the world, many famous person 
ages sending tokens of their esteem. 

I have a list of the silver gifts from this country alone that 
covers twenty-one typewritten pages, and records more than 
three hundred doners, who sent items ranging from um 
brella handles to elaborate tea sets. When everything was 
counted up, the gifts included 131 silver dishes and bowls, 
and almost as many vases and pickle forks. It seemed un 
likely the Tafts would be able to make use of all of them, but 
they made a wonderful display of gleaming silver. 

The lawn party was lavish, with a banquet that included 


Mr. President . . /* 

$500 worth of the President's favorite filet mignon. Five 
hundred dollars bought a lot of steak in those days. The 
Marine Band furnished music, and everybody had a wonder 
ful time, especially the President. 

The Tafts were probably the most brilliant and lavish 
entertainers, but of course every administration has had its 
gay parties at the White House. There were, normally, four 
regular receptions the diplomatic, judicial, Army and Navy, 
and Congressional each winter season. Before World War I 
these were brilliant affairs, especially the diplomatic re 
ception, where there was a lavish display of gold braid, 
ribbons, decorations, and jewels. 

In the old days, a large amount of food and liquor was 
served at receptions, all of it paid for out of the President's 
private purse. This became quite a drain on finances because 
of a large number of gate-crashers. In Mr. Taft's day, Con 
gressmen especially took advantage of the occasion to bring 
along their political friends and guests to see the show. The 
ushers had orders not to admit persons without individual 
invitations, but of course they were not going to turn away 
a Congressman's half-dozen extras. There might be 2000 or 
3000 persons at these receptions, a considerable part of them 
uninvited, but all of them eating heartily. 

Lavish entertaining of this sort was suspended during 
World War I and as Washington's official family grew, was 
never resumed on the same scale. The Franklin Roosevelts 
did some large-scale entertaining for a while, but without 
the huge amounts of food and drink. 

Invitations to White House affairs were usually prepared 


"Dear Mr. President . . " 

by several expert penmen, who during the social seasons 
worked at nothing but filling in names of guests on engraved 
invitations to teas, garden parties, dinners, and receptions. 
This was done so skillfully that the guest's name appeared 
to be part of the engraving and it was difficult to tell that it 
had been written in by hand. For many years reception 
invitations were delivered by messenger, but as the list of 
eligibles grew it became necessary to resort to the mails, and 
this intimate touch became a thing of the past. 

At one time, these arrangements were under direction of 
Colonel Crook, the disbursing officer, who was extremely 
meticulous and watched everything that went out from the 
White House with an eagle eye. One young social secretary, 
who was also an expert penman, made up a special invitation 
that he altered slightly to make it read that a reception would 
be "helT at the "White Horse." This was placed with the 
regular invitations so that Crook would believe the engravers 
had made the error in all the cards. The result was a near 
case of apoplexy until the Colonel was finally convinced it 
was a joke. 

Near the end of his term, Mr. Taft was thoroughly dis 
gusted with the manner in which the President had to put 
up with a horde of office-seekers. He also was dismayed as a 
result of his split with Theodore Roosevelt, which he seemed 
never to understand and which he always sought to heal. 
During the 1912 campaign he became more and more dis 
couraged, until the morning after election disclosed that he 
was third in a three-cornered race, winning the electoral votes 
of only Vermont and Utah. Then, of all times, he perked up. 


"Dear Mr. President . . !* 

He was both more tranquil and more jovial than at any 
other time he was in the White House. The strain semed to 
be lifted from him. 

One day he sat down and wrote a pleasant letter to the 
man who would take his place a letter that seems almost im 
possible in these days when a President is in contant danger 
of going broke on what was a $75,000-a-year salary. 

"You will find/* he wrote to Woodrow Wilson, "that Con 
gress is very generous to the President. You have all your 
transportation paid for, and all servants in the White House 
except such valet and maid as you and Mrs. Wilson choose to 
employ. Your flowers for entertainments and otherwise are 
furnished from the conservatory and if they are not sufficient 
there is an appropriation from which they add to the supply. 
Music for all your entertainments is always at hand by the 
Marine Band. Provision is made by which, when you leave in 
the summer, you may, at government expense, take such of 
the household as you need to your summer home and the 
expense of their travel and living is met under the ap 

"Your laundry is looked after in the White House, both 
when you are here and when you are away. All together, 
you can calculate that your expenses are only those of 
furnishing food to a large boarding house of servants and to 
your family, and your own personal expenses of clothing, 
etc. This, of course, makes the salary of $75,000, with $25,000 
for traveling expenses, very much more than is generally 

"I have been able to save from my four years $100,000. 

"Dear Mr. President . . " 

I give you these personal details as I would have liked the 
same kind of information when I came in." 

Even up to the day he left, however, Mr. Taft failed to 
show any particular interest in the White House staff-- not 
even the casual but warm friendliness that he showed me a 
few years later when I met him by chance in the park. On the 
final day, we were all told that we were to assemble at 

II A.M. to say good-by to the President We did. It was 
typical that he had other things to do and kept us waiting 
until 5 P.M. When we finally filed into his office he stood up 
and let his eyes range over us with deliberation, almost as if 
he didn't know us as perhaps he didn't. His cheeks puffed 
out, and he exclaimed: 

"Well! I didn't know there were so many of you. . . . Good 

He carefully put on his hat and walked out of the executive 
offices for keeps. 

Woodrow Wilson brought an entirely changed atmosphere 
into the White House. Whereas Mr. Taft had frequently 
fallen asleep in the middle of the day's business at his desk, 
at a public affair, or while signing commissions the new 
President was intense, alert, and always on the job. 

-89 - 



* * week before a plot was being hatched against him in 
the executive offices. It was a friendly plot, however, and the 
idea was to keep him from wasting his time on routine work 
that somebody else could handle. 

I don't want to give the impression that Mr. Wilson was 
a slave to his desk, because he wasn't at least not in those 
days. Although energetic and businesslike, he believed a man 
needed a certain amount of intellectual recreation, and he 
didn't let the job of being President crowd other things out of 
his life. But at first he found it difficult to adjust himself to 
the complicated and confusing machinery of the White 
House offices. He brought into his private office an old- 
fashioned Hammond typewriter, which had an unorthodox 
keyboard and made a peculiarly disagreeable tapping noise 
when he used it He would walk past a secretary's desk, notice 
an unanswered letter or a document, and carry it back to his 
office. We were likely to find him later sitting at his typewriter 
pecking away at an answer or a memorandum that should 


"Dear Mr. President . . I 9 

have been handled by the secretary without any reference 
to the President. 

He knew shorthand, and frequently made his own notes 
during conversations and transcribed them later, although he 
needed only to press a button to have such work done by an 
expert stenographer. After a while we began hiding papers 
of secondary importance from him and avoiding reference 
in his presence to a great many matters that could be handled 
by the staff. I think he soon caught onto our conspiracy, but 
he took it smilingly and without comment. Mr. Wilson took 
a number of things without comment during the years he was 
in the White House, but not all of them with a smile. Some 
times he was a very stubborn man. He was also the first 
Democratic President since I had begun handling the White 
House mail, and I was not sure at first that I could hang 
onto my job. But I did. 

As we got to know the President better we were more and 
more impressed by his coldly logical mind and by his de 
termination. Mr. Wilson, like Theodore Roosevelt, had to 
run the whole show himself. He could not work with men 
who disagreed with him on important matters and he got 
rid of them even Colonel House eventually whether they 
were clerks or Cabinet members. 

Perhaps the most interesting instance was that of William 
Jennings Bryan, who . disagreed with Mr. Wilson's policy 
regarding war with Germany. Bryan was an almost unbeliev 
able character as Secretary of State, a man who was, I 
thought, far beyond his depth in that job even with the Presi 
dent himself handling all important matters* 


Mr. President . . ." 

I remember the first time I saw Bryan was at a political 
rally in Ohio when he was running for the Presidency. I 
listened to his speech as if every word and every gesture 
were a revelation. It is not my nature to be awed by a famous 
name, but I felt that Bryan was the first politician I had ever 
heard speak the truth and nothing but the truth. I went away 
convinced that he should be President It was the next day 
before I began to react I read the speech in the newspaper, 
and I disagreed with almost all of it when I saw it in print. 
I finally decided that I had fallen under the spell of the most 
remarkable orator of the century, which I still believe to be 
correct. If Bryan could have made a radio speech on election 
eve and every voter had been forced to listen, I think he 
would have won in a walk. Fortunately, there were no radios 
in those days, and history got one more lucky break. 

It was after Bryan became Secretary of State that I ob 
served how shallow he really was as a statesman. He would 
stride into our offices, a smile on his wile lips, and go in to 
see the President usually to discuss petty political affairs 
instead of the state of foreign affairs, which were rapidly 
heading for a grave crisis. He scribbled memoranda to the 
President on scraps of paper, which he sealed in envelopes 
and sent to our office. I remember a typical one, written in 
pencil on the back of an old envelope, that said so-and-so 
"deserves appointment in the Postal Service because he will 
be able to influence a large number of voters in his com 
munity/* This was at a time when war was raging in Europe 
and we were almost in it. Bryan was out when we did get in. 

The fact that Mr. Wilson insisted on running a one-man 


"Dear Mr. President . . /* 

show did not mean that he was intolerant of the opinion of 
others. His methods were well illustrated by one interview 
he had with a group of Congressmen soon after he became 
President. I was in his office when the delegation arrived, 
smiling and enthusiastic about some legislation for which 
they were seeking Mr. Wilson's support. The President ap 
parently knew nothing about the legislation and very little 
about the subject, but he listened attentively until they had 
finished and then he walked around to stand before them. 

He began asking questions that were direct and squarely 
on the target. He pulled no punches and paid no heed to 
political angles. The Congressmen answered, sometimes 
hesitantly and sometimes squirmingly. Mr. Wilson reminded 
me of nothing so much as a skilled, nerveless surgeon using 
a knife with scientific precision. Quickly and logically, he 
demolished their carefully prepared argument, and although 
they were crestfallen when they departed, they were in no 
position to disagree with him. 

In contrast to the President was his jovial, political-minded 
secretary, Joseph Tumulty. It was Tumulty who kept the 
place alive and moving, and sometimes in turmoil, especially 
when he was scouring the various branches of government 
to find jobs for his friends. With a fellow like Tumulty, that 
meant a lot of jobs. 

He loved a practical joke, and frequently the staff suffered 
the consequences. One clerk, who became irritated by a 
women's-suffrage parade in front of the White House, was 
arrested because he seized a placard and tore it up. Tumulty, 
willing to see others go to any length for a joke, refused to 



"Dear Mr. President . . /* 

answer Ms telephone calls from the police station and let 
Mm languish in jail all day before he finally identified Mm 
and secured his release. There was a lot of laughter around 
the office that day about Charley sitting down there in a cell. 

Tumulty loved to tell stories in dialect, and to call a friend 
on the telephone and imitate someone's voice. Once he Md a 
bottle of whisky in the handbag of one of the clerks who was 
about to leave for the day, and then accused Mm of trying 
to steal WMte House property. They got into a long and loud 
argument in the middle of the offices as Tumulty demanded 
that the clerk open the bag and the clerk refused. Every 
body finally caught on that it was just a gag, and it was a lot 
of fun until Tumulty discovered the clerk had walked off 
with his own bottle of whisky! 

I always had a warm spot in my heart for Tumulty because 
of Ms attitude toward an incident that involved me directly. 
One day Senator Ollie James of Kentucky came by the office 
and gave us what he said was a red-hot tip on the next day's 
races. He also advised us that if we went to a certain tavern 
on the road to Baltimore we could get better odds than else 
where. The next day was Saturday, and Clarence Hess and 
I went down to the tavern on the interurban, and not only 
did we get good odds, but the horse James had touted won. 
We then bet on the next race, but about that time the 
telegraph wire bringing in the results failed and we were told 
to come in the next day to collect, in case we had picked a 
winner. The next morning I saw in the newspaper that my 
horse had won, so I went down to collect and to try to pick 
another one. 

"Dear Mr. President . . ." 

While I was there the place was raided by the police, who 
had a long string of streetcars lined tip outside and took 
everybody to the Annapolis jail, where we were held as 
witnesses. "Everybody" included a number of Congressmen 
and some more or less important government officials. The 
telephone rang like mad all night as nervous politicians sum 
moned help and bondsmen. When we got out on bail the 
next day, I noticed with anxiety that my name, but not any 
reference to the White House, was in the newspapers in 
connection with the raid. I rather expected Tumulty to be 
concerned about it when I went back to work, but he didn't 
say a word. He just grinned at me, and I knew that he was 
aware of what had happened but wasn't going to do any 
thing about it. 

Soon after Mr. Wilson became President I began to notice 
his correspondence with Mrs. Mary Hulbert Peck, which 
eventually became a choice item with the rumormongers of 
the day. The President had become acquainted with her 
sometime before, and had visited her home in Bermuda. He 
wrote to her occasionally perhaps once every two months- 
after he came to the White House. The first letter from Mrs. 
Peck was opened in my office, and I read it and sent it on to 
the President. It was obvious that they were personal friends, 
and as other letters arrived I merely glanced through them at 
first to be sure there was nothing for the office to handle. 
Later I sent them to the President unopened, although he 
never suggested that I do so. 

Soon rumors began to spread about a romance between 
Mr. Wilson and Mrs. Peck, and eventually some of the news- 


Mr. President . . ." 

papers began to take note of the rumors, hinting that the 
President had gone to Bermuda especially to see her. Mrs. 
Wilson was ill at the time, and the gossip became so wide 
spread that her pastor, the Reverend Dr. Beach of Princeton, 
N.J., finally wrote to the President Addressing him as "Dear 
Woodrow," Dr. Beach called attention to the rumors and 
asked the President's permission to refute publicly such 
scandalous talk. 

The President's well-known stubborn streak, however, 
stopped any such public statement He replied pleasantly 
but firmly that the rumors were ridiculous and that it was 
beneath his dignity to pay any attention to them. He didn't, 
either, and neither the letter from Dr. Beach nor the Presi 
dent's reply was ever made public, so far as I know. 

There was no doubt in my own mind that the friendship 
between Mrs. Peck and the President was on a purely in 
tellectual level There was unquestionably a congenial and 
happy meeting of minds in their correspondence, but not 
only could Mrs. Peck's letters have been read by Mrs. Wilson, 
they probably were. The gossip finally died out for lack of 
fuel, but it was typical of the President that he ignored it all 
along and kept on corresponding with Mrs. Peck. 

During the Wilson administration when the President's 
daughter Jessie was to be married, there were, of course, 
many articles about and pictures of the bride in the news 
papers. There were also many wedding gifts coining into the 
White House, but the most unusual one was an expensive 
monogrammed silver service. It was addressed to the bride, 
but there was no indication of the sender's identity. It was, 


Mr. President . . /* 

however, accompanied by a gold card on which was engraved 
the statement: "To the most lovable girl in the world/* 

The gift was a great mystery to the President's household. 
Then one day I got a letter from a woman who had g com 
plaint. She said that her husband had fallen in love with 
Miss Wilson's photograph and had taken all of their savings, 
which amounted to about $600, in order to send a wedding 
present The wife had nothing against Miss Wilson, and in 
fact wished her great happiness, but she did need the money 
and wanted us to do something about it The husband ap 
parently didn't want anything except to send a gift to the 
bride. We connected the letter up with the mystery gift, and 
the silver service was returned to the shop from which it 
came, but I don't know whether the wife ever got her money 

The Wilson household ran smoothly and pleasantly in the 
beginning, with the first Mrs. Wilson devoting herself to 
making everything as easy as possible for her husband. The 
President completely dominated their home life, in a sedate 
and kindly manner. He did not let the burden of high office 
monopolize his attention, but spent a good part of his time 
with his family, often reading aloud to them in the evenings. 

There were those who believed that Mrs. Wilson's opposi 
tion to the marriage of their daughter Eleanor to William G. 
McAdoo contributed to the illness that preceded her death 
after a year and a half in the White House. McAdoo was then 
Secretary of the Treasury and was much older than Eleanor, 
although he retained a youthful zest and enthusiasm. After 
Mrs. Wilson's death the President seemed to lose some 


"Dear Mr. President . . ." 

of his sprightliness until lie met and fell in love with Mrs. 
Edith Gait. Against the wishes of his advisers, he announced 
their engagement on October 6, 1915. 

The announcement, which the President refused to delay 
until after the 1916 election campaign, brought lots of mail 
to the White House, but Mr. Wilson was not interested. He 
was too much in love. There were many letters expressing 
indignation or disappointment that he was engaged to be 
married again only a little more than a year after the death 
of his first wife. But there also were lots of letters of con 
gratulations and good wishes. 

The debate over women's suffrage was raging then, and 
the second Mrs. Wilson was responsible for bringing a woman 
clerk into the White House office for the first time since I 
had been there. She persuaded the President to appoint Mrs. 
Maude Rogers, who had previously been employed in the 
Gait jewelry store in Washington. I believe all of the office 
force resented the appointment and looked forward to 
trouble. That attitude soon changed. Mrs. Rogers was one of 
the best and most likable employees in the office, and she 
stayed on long after the Wilson administration. 

Mr, Wilson never took much interest in the general run of 
the mail coming into the White House. The trend of opinion 
as reflected in letters or the arrival of gifts was of no particu 
lar importance to him. His attitude was that he did not want 
anyone to give him "even so much as a cold potato." The rest 
of his family took much the same attitude, and after his sec 
ond marriage this led to a peculiar little mystery. Since no 
body seemed to care, it had become customary for some of the 
ushers and servants in the White House to divide up gifts of 


"Dear Mr. President . . .** 

food and fruit that came to the President. So far as I know, 
there was no objection to the practice, and of course all such 
gifts had always been acknowledged by the office before they 
were sent to the White House living quarters. 

On one occasion, however, Mrs. Wilson sent over to me a 
note from one of her friends in Virginia which referred to the 
fact that he had sent her some grouse, ham, and sausage, of 
which she was particularly fond. She asked why she had never 
received the food. I showed her that the food had arrived, 
according to my records, and had been delivered to the 
living quarters. We traced it that far and then it seemed to 
vanish into thin air. I could guess what had happened, but 
the food never was found and nobody ever admitted having 
received it in the kitchen, presumably because it had long 
since been eaten. Mrs. Wilson was more than a bit miffed. 

The years of World War I, of course, brought many 
changes around the White House. The war forced expansion 
of the staff and we began to lose the informality of the previ 
ous administrations because the business of the Chief Execu 
tive was getting bigger all the time. The mail deliveries were 
getting bigger, too. 

In 1914, very few persons in the United States had any 
idea that our country might be embroiled in the European 
conflict, and the mail reflected the strong opinion that what 
was happening abroad was none of our business. There were, 
of course, many hundreds of letters urging some kind of aid 
to one side or the other, but very few favoring participation 
in the war. Mr. Wilson made much of the slogan "He kept us 
out of war" in his campaign for re-election in 1916. 

But the change that was taking place began to be seen in 


"Dear Mr. President . . ." 

the mail after 1916, and especially after the sinldng of the 
Lusitania. In sharp contrast to the situation existing during 
World War II, there was a broad division of opinion in this 
country early in the war of 1914-18. It was reflected right in 
the White House offices, where staff members of German 
descent were naturally partial to the Fatherland of their 
ancestors and did not hesitate to speak their mind early in the 
conflict The Allied Powers, however, made great propaganda 
use of the sinking of the Lusitania, and almost immediately 
the situation began to change. There continued to be a steady 
stream of antiwar mail, but this was greatly outnumbered by 
letters condemning the Germans and, finally, by a stream of 
mail favoring military action if necessary. Almost overnight 
the pro-Germans on the White House staff who were good 
Americans first of all were silent. 

This propaganda mail greatly increased the burden of my 
office, and I was forced to turn over the editing of the "yellow 
journal" to another clerk and to get assistance to carry on my 
regular duties in periods of pressure. When the President 
finally asked for a declaration of war, the mail load reached 
a peak for those times, and it never did drop back to the 
leisurely pace of earlier days. 

There was one incident about this time that I shall nevei 
forget A brilliant young Harvard graduate who was a consci 
entious objector spent weeks trying to get die attention of the 
President in an effort to get into the diplomatic service, and 
thus escape being drafted by the Army. The young man had 
made various efforts to get a post through the State Depart 
ment, and was eligible for a job, but due to a series of compli- 


"Dear Mr. President . . " 

cated events lie had finally been turned down, and Ms only 
hope lay in an appeal that would bring a direct recommenda 
tion from the President 

He had completely failed to reach Mr. Wilson, and some 
one to whom he appealed finally suggested that he come to 
see me, because I might be able to get a letter to the Presi 
dent for him. I would not have done such a thing under any 
circumstances, but he could not realize that, and one Sunday 
night in the midst of a blizzard, he set out for my home in 
near-by Virginia. 

The storm was so severe that transportation was disrupted. 
The boy walked several miles through slushy snow. He got 
lost. He was almost frozen when he appeared, covered with 
sleet, at my door. There were tears in his eyes as he explained 
the purpose of his visit and then pleaded with me to help him. 
I was amazed when he said that all he wanted me to do was 
tell him the "secret mark" to put on an envelope in order to 
be sure that it reached the President personally. Who had 
told him such a ridiculous story about a "secret mark" I never 
discovered, but if it had not been such a tragic event I would 
have found the idea highly amusing. I liked him very much 
and considered him a brilliant young man, but all I could do 
was to explain that no such thing as a secret marking on the 
presidential mail existed. He eventually gave up and went 
home. He spent the war days in jail, and I always regretted 
the waste of such exceptional talents as he possessed. 

The war years took a heavy toll of Mr. Wilson's strength, 
but when the Armistice came we all felt, mistakenly, that we 
had come to the end of our troubles. 


"Dear Mr. President * . ." 

The so-called false armistice came along several days 
before the agreement for cessation of hostilities was actually 
signed. When the newspapers carried the story, we knew at 
the White House that the negotiations were in progress, and 
that there had not yet been any actual signing. We tried to 
make that clear to the reporters, but it was too late to restrain 
the public generally. There was a great spontaneous outburst 
People paraded through the streets. The bars served free 
drinks. Girls whirling along the street kissed bystanders indis 
criminately. Clarence Hess and I said, *%Vhat the hell! We 
know it's not true, but there's no point in missing the fun," so 
we went out and joined in. Hess kissed the girls. I had a 
couple or three drinks for free. It was more exciting than 
when the real signing came along a few days later. 

While Mr. Wilson was in Europe for the peace conference, 
there was a great deal of suspense at the White House and a 
great deal of mail, too. The mail demonstrated that most 
people did not understand the League of Nations, but they 
were very strongly in favor of the President's objectives. 

The President was enthusiastic and excited when he 
returned home. He was pleased, too, and felt that he had 
achieved his objectives. Even before he had taken off his hat 
he came into the offices and shook hands with each of us, 
which was probably the most warmth he had shown us since 
he became President. His bearing gave us all a lift. We felt 
that here was a man who had willingly thrown dice with 
destiny, had won a victory, and had listened to the acclaim 
of Europe, without losing his head. He had come back and 
shaken our hands even before he took off his hat, in order to 


"Dear Mr. President . . " 

prove, I think, that a man need not forget where his feet were 
planted even though he had stood in the high places. 
He seemed to need to prove it not so much to us as to him 

We felt very close to Mr. Wilson in those days, and he 
never lost his faith in the ultimate wisdom of the people, 
although there was little time left for his hopes of success. 
Senator Lodge began to peck at the peace structure that the 
President had foolishly believed he could create almost 
singlehanded. As the weaknesses began to appear, that 
inimitable obstructionist, Senator Borah, started a nation 
wide speaking tour against the League, in collaboration with 
Senator Johnson of California. No man could attack more 
efficiently or viciously than Borah, and soon the President's 
satisfaction was replaced by despair, and he decided to carry 
the fight to the people on a speaking tour. This tour was cut 
short by his illness. 

When they brought him back to the White House after he 
was stricken while campaigning for the League of Nations, it 
was known only that the President was suffering from a col 
lapse that somewhat restricted his schedule. It was several 
days later that we began to hear rumors that he was com 
pletely paralyzed. The official bulletins and newspaper 
stories, however, merely said that he was suffering from a 
nervous breakdown and was very sick. 

In my office it became apparent that Mr. Wilson was in a 
far more helpless condition than was officially admitted. 
Since his return to Washington we had been sending docu 
ments requiring his signature to his private quarters and they 


"Dear Mr, President . . " 

had been slow in coming back. Now they ceased to come back 
at all. Even emergency letters that went to the White House 
seemed merely to vanish. When we asked about them, there 
was no reply. 

Tumulty, of all men at the White House, was presumably 
closest to the President, but he had no explanation for the 
delay. He inquired of Mrs. Wilson and of Admiral Gary 
Grayson, the President's physician, but they put him off. I 
was directly concerned, because documents and letters con 
tinued to come to my desk and inquiries were piling up as to 
when some action would be taken on important matters re 
quiring Mr. Wilson s signature. I watched Tumulty grow 
more and more worried. He walked from office to office, 
picking up papers and putting them down again. He 
talked to important visitors, stalling them off with vague 
explanations. Finally, it became obvious that Tumulty was 
as much cut off from the President as any of us. 

Admiral Grayson was very close to the President. He had 
accompanied him to Europe, and he had told me how Mr. 
Wilson would return to his hotel suite in the evening and pace 
the floor, going over in great detail all the conferences of the 
day and repeating the conversation of each participant. Gray- 
son would take notes as he talked and then go immediately 
to dictate a full report to a secretary. 

I knew Grayson well, because he was a breeder of race 
horses and I had often gone with him to the race tracks. The 
next time he appeared at the offices, I made a point of running 
into him in the hall. I inquired about the President and got c - 
vague reply. 


"Dear Mr. President . . ! 9 

"Well," I said, "perhaps I can ask you about this. I just 
received a personal letter for the President and I don't believe 
anyone else can handle it There are some other matters in 
the same category. What do you think I should do?" 

Grayson thought for a minute and said, "Send the letter 
to me over at the House" the White House living quarters, 
"and 111 talk to Mrs. Wilson and see what we can do/* 

I avoided telling Tumulty anything about the conversation, 
but I sent the letter over to Grayson. Later, I sent other letters 
and documents directly to him. If Tumulty discovered my 
action, he never said anything to me. His own efforts to see 
Mr. Wilson were rebuffed and he was very uncertain of his 

At this time, a letter came to the President from Judge 
Learned Hand of New York. It enclosed a letter signed by 
Bruce Bielaski, who had been head of the Bureau of Investi 
gation of the Department of Justice. Bielaskfs letter con 
cerned grave charges against a high official in the Wilson 
administration in connection with the handling of property 
during the war. I knew that it was a matter to be taken di 
rectly to the President, but under the circumstances I was 
not at all certain how that was to be done or whether it was 
worth while to try. Finally, after I thought everyone else had 
gone home, I showed the letters to Charley Swem, the Presi 
dent's personal stenographer, and asked his opinion. While 
Swem was reading them, Tumulty unexpectedly wandered 
into the room and paused to read over Charley's shoulder. He 
read only a few lines and then reached for the letters. 
"Let me have those/* he said. 

"Dear Mr. President . . " 

Swem lield onto them. "No," he replied, "I'm handling 

He tried to jerk away, but Tumulty was a bigger man and 
he had a good grip on the letters. There was a brief, brisk 
struggle and Tumulty pulled the letters out of Swem's hand, 
turned quickly, and walked into the Cabinet Room. I went 
down to the telephone switchboard, which was near the end 
of our office, and watched the operator connect the Cabinet 
Room phone with the Department of Justice. Five minutes 
later the head of that department hurried into the offices and 
went directly to the Cabinet Room to join Tumulty. What 
disposition was made of the letters I never knew. 

Mr. Wilson never returned to his office. After a few weeks 
in which our business came to a standstill as far as it con 
cerned matters requiring the President's personal attention, 
there was a demand by members of Congress for an investiga 
tion as to whether the President was incapacitated, which 
would have meant that Vice-President Marshall would take 
over his duties temporarily. Mrs. Wilson and Admiral Gray- 
son never admitted that he was incapacitated, but for a 
period of about a month almost no one else not even 
Tumulty saw Mr. Wilson, and he was unable to sign his 

Grayson later told me of a conversation he had with the 
President following the first grave attack. He intimated that 
Mr. Wilson asked him to* promise that he would never dis 
close to the public the gravity of his condition, presumably 
because he hoped he could carry through the fight for the 
League of Nations and felt that the facts about his illness 


"Dear Mr. "President . . !' 

miglit weaken his influence. This attitude led to many wild 
rumors about his mental as well as his physical condition, but 
Grayson and Mrs. Wilson ignored them for the most part. 

It appeared to us in the office that the President was un 
questionably unable to carry out the duties of his office as set 
forth in the Constitution, but by the time a committee from 
the Senate was successful in its insistence upon seeing Mr. 
Wilson, he was able to sit up, and had begun to scribble his 
signature on certain documents. 

Slowly, very slowly, the machinery of the White House 
office began to move again. Tumulty never admitted how 
completely he had been severed from connection with the 
President, but even after Mr. Wilson was able to leave his bed 
for short periods, Tumulty continued to send papers to Mrs. 
Wilson, who discussed them with the President and returned 
them with notations or a signature. It seemed improbable that 
Mr. Wilson improved very much in the year and a half that 
he remained in the White House. 

In that year and a half the political wheel was turning 
back toward a new Republican administration that would 
bring in Warren G. Harding, whose handsome face concealed 
a surprisingly incendiary temper, and Calvin Coolidge, who 
never missed a trick, and became my favorite President. 

After Mr. Harding was inaugurated, Mr. Wilson purchased 
and took with him to his home on S Street the big old open 
car he had used when he was President. Occasionally I saw 
him in the years before he died riding through the streets of 
the capital with a shawl around his shoulders and an expres 
sion of infinite sadness on his narrow, shrunken face. 



was particularly exciting to me, and if I had known what 
was coming my way when he moved into the White House it 
would have been frightening as well 

The exciting part, of course, was that the new President 
came from Ohio, and I was pleased because I still had politi 
cal contacts in that state, which had been the political 
stamping ground of my Uncle John back in McKinley's 
day. I had managed to hold onto my job during two terms in 
which the Democrats ran things in Washington, but you 
never could tell what would happen if another Democratic 
President got in. So I mistakenly heaved a sigh of relief 
when Harding was elected. As a matter of fact, 1 was in more 
hot water within the next few months than at any time while 
the Democrats were in power. 

I believe I'd better pause long enough to explain that after 
my marriage we moved to Washington and then for a while 
we made a number of moves back and forth between Wash 
ington and Virginia. Our daughter Betty was born in Falls 
Church, so she, like her mother, is a Virginian. Then in 1916 


"Dear Mr. President . . * 

we bought a home in what is now Arlington, Virginia, about 
three-quarters of an acre with large oak and hickory trees, and 
things went along pretty well. 

My wife was soloist in several of the Washington churches 
for years. During World War I she went into government 
service for work of six months' duration, and stayed there 
for thirty-one years. We enjoyed life in a quiet way, and I 
managed to get in a reasonable amount of hunting and fishing 
and an occasional Saturday-night poker game. I remember 
one argument we had (en famille) at a time when I had 
received a small legacy, as to whether we were most in need 
of a small cabin cruiser for fishing on the Potomac or a grand 
piano. We finally compromised by getting both. 

Betty was as curious as the next child, and as she got a little 
older she would sometimes go to the office with me on Sun 
day when nobody else was there. She would watch me cutting 
open the mail and ask me why I did that and I'd tell her that 
it was my job, just as the doctor's job was treating the sick or 
the grocer's job was selling us food when we went to the 
store. Not long after that I came home one day and found 
Betty sitting in the middle of our living-room floor with the 
wastebasket and the letters that had been delivered a few 
minutes earlier by the mailman. I should say the remains of 
the letters, because they were in tatters as a result of Betty's 
busy work with a pair of shears. 

Before I could open my mouth to scold her, she looked up 
brightly and said: "Look, Daddy! I'm playing I'm Daddy at 
the office working hard." And with that she cut another letter 
into small pieces and dropped it into the wastebasket 


"Dear Mr. President . . !* 

Well ? as I was saying, we were doing all right when Mr. 
Harding was elected. There was a huge accumulation of mail 
for him by the time he was inaugurated, and that meant many 
extra hours of work for me, but I was feeling pretty good 
about it. Some of my relatives and a lot of my friends had 
come on from Ohio for the big doings, and there were busy 
times around the White House. 

Soon after the inauguration, Harding's secretary George 
Christian came into my office with a worried look on his 

"Now don't get excited, Ira," he said, <c but the President 
wants to see you right away. Don't be upset" 

I wasn't the least bit upset. Mr. Harding was from Ohio 
and my family had worked hard for his election. My mother 
had been in Washington recently and had called on the 
President. I had told her not to mention that I was working 
at the White House because I wanted to meet Mr. Harding 
in my own way, but I assumed that she had said something 
to him anyway. 

I walked jauntily into the President's office and got my 
first look at Mr. Harding, who had just returned from a rest 
in Florida. He was tall and sun-tanned, and I thought I had 
never seen a more handsome man. My enthusiasm for the 
new boss suddenly soared and I smiled happily as I stuck out 
my hand. The President shook my hand, but he didn't smile. 
I never got a chance to say the things I had intended in the 
way of greetings and good wishes. His eyes bored into me, 
cold and angry. I knew suddenly that here was a man with 
a temper. 


"Dear Mr. President , . /* 

His left hand had been behind his back, but now he thrust 
it out toward me, holding a letter. 

"Smith/' he snapped, "did you open this?'' 

I immediately recognized it and nodded. 

"I want you to understand one thing, Smith/" he said in a 
cold voice. "I am President of the United States, but I also 
have a personal life. If you ever again open a personal letter 
of mine you will be looking for another job/' 

He turned abruptly and started back to his desk, dismissing 
me. It took me a few seconds to recover, but I realized that I 
had to talk back. 

"Just a moment, Mr. President/* I blurted out "You prob 
ably don't understand the circumstances. When you came 
here I received a huge backlog of unopened letters for you. 
They had been lying around for days or weeks and nobody 
had done anything about them. They were finally forwarded 
to me from the Republican National Committee, from 
Marion, Ohio, from the Senate, and from Florida. A lot more 
have come to you here and there are around ten thousand in 
all. Of these, several thousand were marked 'personal/ I 
asked Mrs. Harding and I asked your secretaries, but they 
couldn't give me any guidance and I had no choice but to 
open them. I won't make the same mistake twice/* 

Mr. Harding paused and seemed to reconsider. "Well/ 9 he 
said in a more friendly tone, "I guess I didn't understand. 
Perhaps you are right/* 

The letter he had in his hand was from an old crony in Ohio. 
I had glanced at it, but it contained nothing of importance. 
It was merely the idea of someone else's opening his personal 


"Dear Mr. President . . ." 

mail that caused the President's anger. Very few men are 
able to realize quickly the extent to which they sacrifice their 
personal freedom when they enter the White House. They 
soon find out, however, and the handling of their mail is one 
of the first ways it is brought home to them. In the case of 
Mr, Harding some very peculiar circumstances developed, 
and there were some things about the handling of his mail 
that he never did find out. 

One morning not long after Mr, Harding became President 
I was going through a huge accumulation of mail when I 
came across a long envelope addressed to the Chief Executive 
in slanting, feminine handwriting. That envelope, I suppose, 
was one of the most explosive of the millions that I opened 
and read at the White House. 

The postmark was New York, and the date showed it had 
been written before Mr. Harding was inaugurated, but there 
had been such a backlog of mail that I did not get through all 
of it for weeks. The envelope contained a long sheet of writ 
ing paper, which I glanced at hastily. Then I stopped and 
began reading carefully. I was not unaccustomed to 
opening letters from cranks, nuts, disgruntled job-hunters, 
or even practical jokers. But there was obviously something 
different about this one. It said that the writer was again 
appealing to Mr. Harding to keep his promise. It referred to 
earlier letters written to him, and it made one thing very 
clear: The writer was calling upon the President to acknowl 
edge that he was the father of her infant daughter. The letter 
was signed by Nan Britton. 

I let the letter cool on my desk while I thought it over and 

"Dear Mr. President . . /' 

then I took it around to George B. Christian, the tall, dark, 
and handsome man who was Mr. Harding's secretary. 

"I think yoifd better see this one, Mr. Christian/* I said. 
He read it through and got a bit white around the Bps. 

"My God!" he exclaimed. "If the President finds out we 
opened this he will fire both of us!" 

Knowing something about Mr. Harding's temper, I felt that 
might well be an understatement. We both took another look 
at the letter. The handwriting was clear, but each line slanted 
upward toward the right-hand side of the page, and the lan 
guage made me feel that the contents had been dictated to or 
copied by the writer. It was threatening, but stilted. 

Christian hesitated briefly and then tore the letter into 
long strips, tore them again, and dropped the scraps into the 
wastebasket We looked at each other in silence and went 
back to our desks. I was probably less disturbed than Chris 
tian. I felt then and later that there was political inspiration 
of some sort behind the Britton case. As everybody eventually 
learned, Nan Britton's story was that she 'became friendly 
with Mr. Harding while he was a member of the Senate and 
in the winter of 1919 she spent considerable time with him in 
Washington, after which she learned she was going to have 
a baby. Later, she told all in a book called The President's 

A couple of weeks after Christian tore up the Britton letter 
another similar envelope arrived for the President I recog 
nized the handwriting and didn't even open it. I tore it up 
and dumped it in the wastebasket A third letter was handled 
in the same way. 


Mr. President . . r 

I expected that any day we would hear from the President 
about the letters, but we never did. When The President's 
Daughter was published quite a while afterward it was a brief 
sensation, and then the fuss died out. Years later I met Chris 
tian at a small White House ceremony during the Truman 
administration. He had gone blind, but he immediately rec 
ognized my voice and said: 

"Remember, Ira, when we tore up the President's letters?" 
*1 remember/' I said. "You tore up the first one." 
"Yes," he said, smiling, "I did* Good thing, too." 
Mrs. Harding proved to be an ambitious First Lady. She 
had been instrumental in pushing her husband along in politi 
cal affairs, having no desire to spend the rest of her life as the 
wife of the editor of a small Ohio newspaper. Having made 
the grade, she spent much time worrying about the Presi 
dent's political future and keeping his political fences in 
good repair. 

By the time of the Harding administration, we didn't see a 
great deal of the White House family life, but Mrs. Harding 
was always looking in on us. Usually, she was accompanied 
by a group of political guests from the Corn Belt who were 
being given a conducted tour of the White House. Mrs. 
Harding would lead a frumpy-looking crowd, mostly women, 
into the office and start explaining things to them in the 
manner of a Chinatown sight-seeing-tour conductor. She 
never understood the workings of the office herself, so she 
would always bog down in the middle and say, "You tell 
them, Mr. Smith." Always made me wish I'd taken that after 
noon off to go fishing. 

"Dear Mr. President . . /' 

Mrs. Harding's favorite around the place was a doctor who, 
through her efforts, became the President's physician; he 
also became a Brigadier General. He was a little fellow, a bit 
on the pompous side, and not particularly popular except 
with the First Lady. So on the first day he arrived in his 
resplendent uniform, the news photographers went to work 
on him. They stopped him outside the office and posed him 
all over the place, but particularly walking down the drive 
way. He strutted a bit normally, but with the uniform he 
strutted good. They made him do it over and over, snapping 
their cameras endlessly while the doctor sweated in the sun. 

After about fifteen minutes, while he was panting but still 
game, I asked one of the boys why they were wasting so much 
film on him. 

"Hell, we're just having fun/* he replied. "Nobody's had 
any film in his camera since the first shot. But we like to see 
him strut/' 

Perhaps the most famous figure of the Harding days was 
Laddie Boy, a handsome Airedale dog that was better known 
in his time than even the Roosevelts' Falla. Laddie Boy was 
friendly, but ready to fight anything that showed up in a 
pugnacious mood. After Mr. Harding's death on a trip that his 
wife had thought would be helpful toward his renomination, 
the dog was given to Harry Barker of the Secret Service. 
Stories about Laddie Boy had helped spread the craze for 
Airedales at the time, and I had a fine Airedale bitch that I 
wanted to mate with the Harding dog. Harry refused my 

"I can't do it/' he said. "Mrs. Harding made me promise 


"Dear Mr. President . . ." 

never to breed Laddie Boy, because she wanted Ms line to 
die with him. Don't ask me why.** 

Later, my bitch had some puppies and one of the news 
photographers made a cute picture of them. It was published 
in many newspapers with a caption that mistakenly gave the 
impression that they had been sired by Laddie Boy. I was 
deluged with letters offering big prices for the pups. 

Mr. Harding's comparatively short tenure in the White 
House was remarkable chiefly for a lot of political hocus- 
pocus, and the case of the decapitated salmon. The hocus- 
pocus is well known, so I will mention only the salmon, which 
was the first big catch of the season in Maine and was sent as 
a gift to the President. When it arrived, one of the more 
publicity-minded Congressmen from Maine called up and 
insisted that he wanted to present it to the President, for the 
benefit, chiefly, of the news photographers. It was finally 
arranged, and he rushed down to the White House for the 

Everybody gathered around. The Congressman smoothed 
his hair, the photographers were summoned, and word was 
sent to the kitchen to produce the salmon. Then there was a 
delay quite an ominous delay. Finally it developed that the 
cook had cut off the salmon's head because it was too big to 
put in the icebox before decapitation. There were wails of 
anguish, but there was also an inspiration. A needle and 
thread were found and the salmon's head was sewed on again. 
You'd never have guessed it when you saw the pictures. 



economic boom time when it seemed that almost every 
body in the country was gambling on the market except the 
President and me. 

Some of the White House staff bought stocks on margin. 
Important political and business figures, such as John Hays 
Hammond, were always coining into the executive offices and 
passing out hot tips on when to buy what and when to sell. I 
never took advantage of their suggestions. My job of handling 
the White House mail gave me access to much information 
that a stock-market gambler could have used to great advan 
tage. I never used it Others on the staff went in for real- 
estate gambles, and some of them urged me to participate in 
several deals that seemed likely to turn a quick profit I 
never did, 

I wouldn't attempt to guess what Mr. Coolidge thought 
about such goings-on, but it was always my idea that I'd 
rather put my money on a good horse running at Havre de 
Grace. My friends and colleagues frequently spoke critically 
of my business dealings with the race-track bookies, but in 


"Dear Mr. President . /* 

the end I think I came out about as well as the stock-market 
gamblers who saw their paper profits collapse in 1929 and the 
real-estate speculators who had their property washed down 
the Potomac by floods. Anyway, I had more fun. 

So did Mr. CooHdge. He was never a spectacular President. 
Mostly he Just sat tight, although I always felt that he would 
have been prompt and firm in any crisis. But he was best 
known, I suppose, for the amusing stories about him.. He was 
built up and built himself up as a man with a steady hand 
and a quizzical sort of Vermont humor. It was a pretty accu 
rate picture as far as it went, but it paid scant attention to his 
New England inhibitions. It always seemed to me that he 
suppressed his feelings to the point where he was sometimes 
quietly boiling inside, and when his irritation did pop out, it 
was in an abrupt, indirect fashion. 

I came to know Mr. CooHdge unusually well. We were both 
careful not to make a point of our friendship, although there 
was one time when I very much wanted to try. That was 
when his son Calvin died and the President suffered a period 
of utmost despondency without ever permitting anyone on 
the outside even to attempt to help him. He went about his 
routine almost as usual, giving no outward sign of what I 
knew to be a great emotional struggle. He never mentioned 
the illness or the loss of his son, and never gave me or anyone 
else a chance to express even a word of sympathy. It made 
me think he might have been far better off if he could have 
let some emotion show through, at least for a moment. 

My first contact with Mr. Coolidge was unusual. When 
Warren G. Harding died, Mr. Coolidge refused to move into 


"Dear Mr. President . . ." 

the White House until after the funeral, which was a week or 
so later. He wouldn't even use the executive offices, having 
taken over a Willard Hotel suite that was transformed into 
working rooms. Mr. Coolidge had a big staff provided by the 
Superintendent of Buildings and Grounds, and in a few days 
complete chaos had been achieved both at the Willard and 
at the White House excutive offices. 

Finally, three of us from the White House staff went down 
to the hotel and co-ordinated operations, and the President 
was not only grateful but remembered it. On the day he 
moved to the White House he asked all of us to come up into 
the Willard ballroom and had his picture taken with us. 

The President followed a fairly regular daily routine, but 
he was in the habit of popping up at odd times in the most 
unexpected places, roaming from basement to attic and just 
looking in to see that everything was as it should be. At such 
times he was always asking countless questions, although 
in general he was impatient of anyone who wasted words 
or motions or failed to get his work done in orderly 

I usually got to the office about 8 A.M. in order to have the 
mail in readiness when the staff arrived, and after the Presi 
dent had taken his morning walk. Along toward 8:30 1 would 
usually see him coming back to the White House with one 
Secret Service man, probably Colonel Edmund W. Starling, 
walking beside him, and another following closely. 

The President walked very straight, with his nose pointed 
directly forward and his hat set squarely on top of his head. 
But without ever turning his head he took in everything in 


"Dear Mr. President . . .** 

front, to Ms right, and to Ms left and sometimes, I tMnk, to 
Ms rear. His eyes were constantly moving back and forth in 
eager and inquisitive search. On one occasion my daughter 
and I were some thirty feet off to one side of him as he walked 
stiffly down the street and I was sure that he had not seen 
us. But not only did he lift his hat without turning his face 
toward usbut later he asked Starling many question about 
my daughter, where she went to school, where we lived, and 
so on. 

When he turned into the WMte House grounds after his 
walk he would head straight for the basement driveway at a 
fairly fast clip. Then just as he came opposite our office door 
he would sometimes make a sharp right turn so unexpectedly 
that the momentum of the Secret Service men would carry 
them on to the driveway before they could stop, while the 
President would be entering the office alone and with a 
pleased expression on Ms face. He would walk into my office, 
look down Ms sharp nose at me, and say: "Good morning. 
Are there any mails for me?" Or he often asked particularly 
if there were "mails" from his father. I would have Ms per 
sonal letters ready and he would carry them off to Ms office. 
He had a thorough knowledge of the office, and would often 
go himself to the files for records. 

On mornings when I was late to work I might find him 
sitting in my chair, with his feet on the desk, reading letters 
he had sorted out of the mail. On such occasions he would 
not even look at me, and instead of saying anytMng, I would 
go to another desk, sit down, and twiddle my thumbs until 
he decided to leave. He usually departed without speaking 

"Dear Mr. President . . /* 

to me, and I felt that if I had offered any explanation of my 
failure to beat him to the office he would have merely sniffed 
and walked away. 

I don't know whether the President ever sat with his feet 
on his own desk, but I was always glad he chose to park his 
shoes on mine on those occasions. I always enjoyed doing it 
myself, and if anybody raised an eyebrow at me I pointed out 
that what was good enough for Mr. Coolidge was good 
enough for me. I always felt that way about the Coolidge 
administration in general, too, because it was the most en 
joyable of all from my viewpoint. Bight now I feel that I never 
want to open another letter of any kind, but if I could work 
for Mr. Coolidge, I'd be happy to go back on the job to 
morrowprovided 'both of us could get some time off for 

Mr. Coolidge was a master of dry and dead-pan humor. He 
never smiled at his own jokes, and if you wanted his respect, 
you never acted more than moderately amused. He didn't 
face you when he was making a joke, but he always cut his 
eyes around to see whether you caught it. This put quite a 
strain on some members of the staff who either were inclined 
to laugh out loud, or who weren't always sure when it was a 
joke. I usually found his jokes of a caliber that enabled me to 
restrain my laughter, and we got along fine. 

Once when an Ohio Congressman was making a big front 
page fuss about bureaucratic wastefulness and idleness, Mr. 
Coolidge came into the office and saw Charley Wagner, the 
chief stenographer, with his feet on a desk and a newspaper 
opened so that his face was covered and he failed to see the 


"Dear Mr. President . . ." 

President. Mr. Coolidge walked up to him, tapped at the 
paper, and said severely, "That man from Ohio will get after 
you." Then he hurried away. Wagner never was sure whether 
he was being ribbed. 

On another occasion the President came into the office and 
examined some packages that had just arrived. He was appar 
ently about to open a big one when I reminded him that it 
was against Secret Service orders for the President to open 
any packages. He was a bit peevish about it, and since I knew 
what was in the package because of a letter received earlier, 
I told him I would open it while he watched. It turned out 
to be a big and costly picture frame that held a very gaudy 
and unattractive colored photograph of a locomotive, sent in 
with the compliments of the manufacturers. The President 
looked at it in petty disappointment, and then, cutting his 
eyes toward me, said: 

"Well, send it over to the house. Mama can make good use 
of that frame." 

The Coolidges had been given a big white collie after they 
came to the White House, and although the President didn't 
care much for the dog, it often went with him on his ram- 
blings around the place. One day he investigated the White 
House basement's innermost recesses and came across Wil 
liam Pannell, a big, fast-talking Negro janitor who had 
quarters there. Pannell had not seen the President close up 
before, but he quickly leaped at the opportunity to make him 
feel at home in the White House, and to explain in enthusi 
astic terms how much he admired Mr. Coolidge. 

The President listened for about thirtv seconds, and made 


"Dear Mr. President . * /* 

up his mind that Pannell was building up to ask him a favor. 
TMs was a mistake, because Pannell just liked to talk, but it 
was a natural mistake on the part of a President who was 
always being asked for something. Mr. Coolidge turned 
abruptly away, saying "Come on, doggie/* to the big collie. 
He walked swiftly to the door, and then turned back to the 
crestfallen Pannell. 

"Well," he said, "take anything that isn't nailed down. . . . 
Come on, doggie." 

He was always suspicious of politicians, but he played the 
game according to rules. With an eye toward the 1924 nomi 
nation he brought in Bascom Slemp, a millionaire Southern 
coal operator, to be his secretary. Slemp had been in Congress 
and was able to exert such a strong influence on his party in 
the Southern states that when the Republicans were in power 
in Washington he was called the "little President of the 

His atention was devoted to the President's political prob 
lems, and he did a good job. Like Jim Farley, he had an 
excellent memory for faces and names, and a pocketful of 
tricks to smooth over the situation if he forgot one. Slemp 
arranged for the first radio broadcast ever made by a Presi 
dent before Congress, and Mr. CooMdge's precise New Eng 
land voice went over the air waves with good results. Slemp 
had made sure that the greatest possible audience was listen 
ing, and after the broadcast he wrote to some of his hillbilly 
political friends in Tennessee and asked them to report on 
reaction to the speech. One of them replied: "There wasn't 
no reaction. Everybody liked it." 


Mr. President . . ." 

Another able aide of Mr. Coolidge was Judson Welliver, a 
newspaperman who did research and helped write the Presi 
dent's speeches. In those days the President did not have a 
regular press secretary or a ghost writer, and there was no 
provision for such an employee on the White House pay roll. 
Welliver was technically in the employment of another gov 
ernment department, but he was lent to the White House 
without having any official tide. 

He was an extraordinarily skillful writer, but he liked to 
take a drink whenever he was sure Mr. Coolidge would not 
find out that he was violating the Eighteenth Amendment. 
One day he waited until the President had left his office and 
then he dragged out a bottle of homemade wine that I had 
concocted and traded to him for a bottle of bourbon. Welliver 
preferred my wine to bourbon and was always after me to 
trade. He took a few drinks and was feeling no pain when 
Mr. Coolidge returned unexpectedly to his office and sum 
moned his ghost writer. 

Welliver went reluctantly because my wine had an aroma 
almost equal to its kick. He stood inside the door of the 
President's office. 

"I wanted you to see this, Mr. Welliver," the President said 
in his precise Vermont voice, pointing with his finger at a 
newspaper. "Come over here/* 

Welliver moved up as far as the desk **Yes, sir." 

Mr. Coolidge looked up. "Come around here, Mr. Welliver, 
where you can see it'* 

"I can see it from here, Mr. President,' 1 Jud replied. Mr. 
Coolidge sniffed. 


"Dear Mr. President . . ." 

"Mr. Welliver," he said sharply, his finger still on the item 
under inspection, "I asked you to come around here where 
you can see it** 

Welliver moved around the desk, trying to hold his breath. 
The President sniffed again, handed him the paper, and 
stood up. 

"I'll see you at ten o'clock tomorrow, Mr. Welliver/* he said 
sedately, and departed. He sniffed once more as he left, but 
he didn't say anything later to Jud. 

One day the President stopped at my desk and asked me 
whether his son John received much mail. John was a likable 
and good-looking kid, and he had been getting a good deal 
o fan mail, especially from teen-age girls who wanted the 
thrill of writing to a boy in the White House. Some of these 
letters from girls he didn't know were clever, and occasionally 
John would answer one of them with a flippant note. 

I told Mr. Coolidge that there were usually some letters 
for John every day or so. He nodded, and said that hereafter 
I was to send them to him instead of the boy. The next day 
John wandered in, acting a bit too casual. We talked about 
nothing much until he finally asked whether his father had 
given me instructions about his mail. I told Mm what had 

"Well,** he said with some embarrassment, "it doesn't mat 
ter except for one thing. You see, there's one that's different. 
I don't mind Dad getting the others, but this one . . . You 
know the one I mean?" 

Yes, I said, I believed I knew the one. 

"You know she's an old friend, and not like the crazy ones 

"Dear Mr. President . . ? 

that just write in without knowing me. I wondered if 
maybe . . ? 

"John/* 1 said, "I'm sorry, but I have very definite orders 
from the President and youll have to work it out with him." 
The boy's face showed how he felt about that. So I went on: 
"Of course you know how we do things here. I sort out your 
letters each morning and put them in a pile right there on the 
comer of my desk. Then I sort the other letters. Sometimes I 
even have to go out of the room for some reason or other. 
Then later I send the letters over to your f ather." 

John gave me a long, pleased look and departed. The next 
morning I sorted out his letters, and there was one from the 
girl. I kept an eye on the door, and when I saw John coming 
I got up and went elsewhere. When I came back the letter 
was gone and so was John. We worked it that way for quite 
a while, and I don't think we ever missed a trick. I guess our 
little trick was all right, because later John married the girl. 
She was Florence Trumbull, daughter of the Governor of 

The President was not a generous giver, but he always 
wanted to do the right thing. One day he walked up to my 
desk and suddenly handed me a box of cigars. 

"Have some tobaccah," he said. Then he walked on down 
to the desk of Nelson Webster, the disbursing officer, and 
repeated the performance. Webster and I later compared 
notes and found that he had taken the trouble to discover 
what price cigars each of us smoked. Webster smoked twenty- 
five-centers and he got twenty-five-cent cigars. I smoked ten- 
centers and that's what I got. Both boxes, incidentally, 


"Dear Mr. President . . " 

came from the large number of gift cigars sent to the Presi 
dent that were stacked up in his study. I guess Mr. Coolidge 
figured that if I smoked ten-cent cigars I wouldn't appreciate 
anything better. 

Mr. Coolidge never had a real vacation until he came to 
the White House, but there he learned to enjoy them. On 
one trip to upper New York State he tried fishing, and loved 
it. There were a lot of stories making fun of him for using a 
worm to catch trout, but actually he became quite proficient. 
His main complaint was that Starling, who considered himself 
an expert hunter and fisherman, always made him go down 
to Chesapeake Bay to fish, claiming that fishing was not 
worth while in the near-by Potomac. The President didn't like 
the long trip, but he took Starling's word for it. This had 
gone on for some time when the President came in one day 
and found me absent. 

"Where's Rapid Transit Smith?" he asked. He never ad 
dressed me that way, but when I was not present he often 
referred to me as Rapid Transit because my initials are I.R.T., 
just like the Interborough Rapid Transit system in New York 
City. I think he liked that because I am a rather deliberate 

One of the boys allowed as how I might be down on the 
Potomac fishing, which I was. The next day Mr. Coolidge 
came in early. 

"Catch anything?" he asked abruptly. 

I said I caught a few nice bass. He took his mail without 
another word and walked out. Sometime later, Starling came 
in with a red face and complained bitterly that I had knifed 


"Deaf Mr. President . . " 

him, and said he had caught hell from the President for say 
ing there were no fish in the Potomac. 

Mr. Coolidge also tried hunting, but with unsatisfactory 
results. Starling took him out with a party looking for quail. 
They trudged along until the dogs made a point Then every 
body stepped back to let the President have the first shot. The 
quail were flushed and whirred away, but no shot was fired. 
When they looked at Mr. Coolidge he was holding the gun in 
the crook of his arm and watching the birds. Never did fire. 
Never hunted again, either. 

Being a hunter myself, I enjoyed hearing about the Presi 
dent's attitude toward shooting, and I had a little fun with 
him the following Christmas as a result of an accident. I had 
gone hunting with Dr. Walter Bloedom and was a little in 
front of him when some birds got up. We both shot, and 
three No. 8 chilled shot from his gun struck my cheek. He was 
distressed, and insisted on going back to a farmhouse, where 
he picked out the shot and dabbed my cheek liberally with 
iodine. As I had previously scratched my other cheek on 
some bushes, he completed the Job by using the iodine on 
spots all over my face. 

The next day was Christmas, always a rush time in the mail 
room, and I went down to the office to catch up on my work. 
While I was there the President came in, and he gave my 
splotched face a long, searching look. I knew he was curious, 
but I didn't offer any explanation. He fussed around for a 
while and finally gave me one cf those sidewise glances. 

TBeen to a party?" he asked tersely. 

I nodded. "Yes, a shooting party/' I replied, just as tersely. 


"Dear Mr. President . . /' 

He looked at me questioningly, but I went on sorting the 
mail and didn't say any more. I knew he wasn't going to ask, 
either, but it was burning him up. He kept on fooling around 
and I kept on saying nothing. My little joke was spoiled when 
Bloedorn, still worried about me, came by to look at the 
scratches, and of course talked about what had happened. 
The President didn't comment, but after hearing the whole 
story he gave me an amused side glance, pleased that he had 
found out after all. 

The President didn't often resent things that were amusing. 
There were stories at one time that he was angry because 
Will Rogers imitated his voice in a very clever skit on the 
radio. Lots of people thought it was really Mr. Coolidge, and 
wrote in complaining about what he said. Rogers, fearing that 
he had offended the President, sent him a letter of apology, 
and in return got a telegram inviting him to lunch at the 
White House. He wired back: "My God, Mr. President, do 
you really mean it?" 

The President was always much interested in the gifts that 
came to him, and he kept a dose check on them, but he was 
also careful about government property. Two incidents illus 
trate this attitude. 

Two weeks before the then Prince of Wales visited the 
White House, his equerry came to my office and explained 
that the British Embassy was sending over several cases of 
the Prince's own Apollinaris water, which was the only water 
he ever drank. The equerry wanted to know how to arrange 
for it to be served at the table and made available in the 
Prince's room. I put him in touch with the steward, and in 


"Dear Mr. President , . ? 

return for the favor, he sent me a case of the Apollinaris 
water in handsome bottles with a special label showing that 
it was put up by a Special Purveyor to His Royal Highness. 
I was pleased, because I wanted to show off the bottles to 

my friends and give some of them away as souvenirs, but by 
mistake my case was placed with some packages for the 

House proper and came under the watchful eye of Mr. 
Coolidge. He just assumed it was for him and told the 

"Ok, fine. I like that size bottle. Send it right up to my 
study and well use it this afternoon for some lemonade." 

Nobody wanted to dampen his enthusiasm by correcting 
the misunderstanding, and I had to see my prize souvenirs 
disappear in the direction of the President's study. But he 
made up for it later. One day he was talking to me about 
fishing and I remarked that I was going to have a new ice 
box made to fit into a certain place on my boat. I was plan 
ning to go down that day to get the exact measurements. 

"Let me have the measurements/' he said. 

The next morning he asked if I had the measurements and 
I handed them to him on a slip of paper. 

"Don't do anything until you hear from me/* he said, and 
disappeared for half an hour. When he came back he was 
looking pleased. *Tve got one just the right size and you can 
have it/' he said. "All youTl have to do is saw the iron legs off." 

The icebox he gave me was a handsome one that had been 
in his study and was being replaced by an electric refrigera 
tor. Later, when I told him it was just right, I also asked him 
jokingly what he was going to do about a missing icebox 


"Dear Mr. President . . /* 

when the next check-up was made on the White House 

"Oh, that's all right/* he said. "You can give me your old 

Almost every White House family has some pet that be 
comes well known to the nation. In the case of the Coolidges, 
it was the handsome white collie dog already mentioned. 
The collie was best known, perhaps, because it was included 
in a portrait of Mrs. Coolidge done by Howard Chandler 
Christy. The President liked the painting and decided it 
would be nice to send photographs of it to their friends. One 
was sent to the man who had given the collie to the President 
Mr. Coolidge got a telegram in reply: "Fine picture of dog. 
Send more photographs." 

Mrs. Coolidge was the most charming First Lady I knew, 
and she was admired by all of the staff. Like the President, she 
took a friendly interest in us and helped make our work 
pleasant The President, however, was always on guard 
against anything or anyone that might attract unfavorable 
attention toward the White House. Any breath of scandal 
frightened him, and he never took a chance, probably because 
the Harding-administration scandals were so vivid in his 
mind. Several White House employees who were involved in 
unsensational divorce actions or something of the sort were 
quietly but quickly shifted to other jobs. The President never 
waited to see whether there would be gossip; he got rid of 
the man if anything arose that just might lead to gossip. 

I think that was what happened in the case of the Secret 
Service man who accompanied Mrs. Coolidge on her walks. 


"Dear Mr. President . . .** 

They became good friends, and Mrs. Coolidge was interested 
to learn that lie was very much in love with a girl he later 
married. But somehow a small rumor started about Mrs. 
Coolidge and her Secret Service companion. It was the sort 
of thing Woodrow Wilson would have stubbornly ignored 
because it was so obviously false, but in this case the Secret 
Service man immediately vanished from the White House 
detail. The President of course knew that the rumor was 
ridiculous, but he took no chances on any fingers being 
pointed at the White House. 

The President didn't miss any political bets either, for all 
of his dead-pan approach to publicity hoop-la. He had a 
temper that could make itself felt in high places, but he 
always felt a strong sympathy for the ordinary citizen and 
frequently went out of his way to perform some little act of 
thoughtfulness for a stranger. 

One Sunday morning when I was at the office trying to 
catch up with a heavy flood of mail he came over from the 
White House and stood beside my desk while I opened a 
large pile of letters. One of them was a special delivery letter 
from a woman who wanted to know what church the Presi 
dent would attend that day and at what time he would be 
there. She explained that she was in Washington only for a 
few days and that she wanted her small son to get a glimpse 
of the President while he was in the capital because it would 
be something he would remember always and could tell his 
friends about She asked whether it would be possible to 
telephone her at her hotel and tell her which church Mr. 
Coolidge would attend. 

I handed him the letter and he read it carefully. Without 


"Dear Mr. President . . ." 

saying anything, he picked up a pencil and wrote: 
10:30 A.M. Monday/* He handed the notation to me and 
went abruptly away. Such notes were typical of Mr. Coolidge, 
and I understood that he meant for me to telephone the 
woman and tell her to hring her son to the White House on 
Monday at 10:30 A.M. for a visit with the President This I 
did, and the delighted mother and son were received by 
Mr. Coolidge. 

When Mr. Coolidge's term ended, he just sort of faded out 
of the White House without any formal good-bys, and Her 
bert Hoover took over. I, for one, was sorry to see Mr. 
Coolidge go, because it seemed to me that his departure 
marked the end of a chapter in our history. He was probably 
the last of our modern-era Presidents who was able to give 
the impression of avoiding the extreme mental and physical 
strains of the office. This was due both to the period in which 
he served and to his temperament, although it was difficult 
to tell just what tensions were at work behind that New 
England f aade. 

He believed, however, that a man was inefficient if he 
failed to get through his allotted work each day. Mr. Coolidge 
always got through his. He didn't like noise or hoop-la, and 
he didn't like sudden and drastic changes the kind of 
changes that we were heading for even if we could not then 
see them. He was, perhaps, a little old-fashioned, and, as I 
hope I've made clear, I liked him, and I believe he liked me. 
I never laughed heartily at his jokes just enough to let him 
know I got the point He seemed to like that He may even 
have realized that very few of his jokes were worth more 
than a mild chuckle, but I doubt it 



was in the midst o a prosperous and booming time, but 
it was also a time of ferment and change and underlying 
restlessness. Things were never going to be the same again 
in the ILS.A., and especially not in the White House. 

It always seemed to me that in the late nineteen-twenties 
the country tended to go a bit wacky about science. Now 
don't get me wrong; Tin a great advocate of scientific prog 
ress. What I mean is that you sometimes got the impression 
that people believed science could make up a few formulas, 
push a few buttons, and solve all the problems of the world. 
Those were the days when everybody was reading with avid 
excitement books about how things were doing in outer 
stellar space and people were gabbing about Einstein's dis 
coveries in the electromagnetic-gravitational field as if they 
understood what it was all about. 

I always encouraged such people to go on learning, but 
they reminded me of the horse players who had worked out 
a perfect system for cleaning up at the track. I never felt they 
knew exactly what they were talking about. My own hunch 


"Dear Mr. President . . ." 

was that ruiroing the world would continue to be a job calling 
for a lot of hard work, and that picking the winners would 
call for considerable knowledge of horseflesh, track conditions 
and luck. 

This scientific trend I mention not disparagingly, but 
because it properly coincided with the administration of Mr. 
Hoover, who was hailed as the Great Engineer. I think people 
may have had a feeling that the country was running a little 
wild economically, but that if they elected Mr. Hoover, his 
scientific genius would straighten things out and the people 
could go on doing as they pleased. 

As far as the White House was concerned, Mr. Hoover 
brought about some changes, and was the originator of the 
multiple-secretary system. His engineering mind was inclined 
to put everything into the proper pigeonhole, including the 
staff, and his political, press, and executive secretaries formed 
a buffer line around the President day and night. Big-business 
methods had finally taken over at the White House. It was 
about time, I suppose, but it was a far cry from the days of 
the McKinley administration when each of us could do almost 
any job in the office, and when the President often answered 
his mail by handing a letter to some clerk and saying: "Oh, 
tell him thus and so. You know how to say it" 

As a matter of fact, the White House staff never has been 
very efficient and, due to political and other considerations, it 
is not likely that it ever will be. Sometimes, of course, it has 
been highly inefficient, and there have been periods of slip 
shod and unbusinesslike operations that would not be tol 
erated in private business. There have also been furious out- 


"Dear Mr. President . . /* 

breaks in which commissions and efficiency experts did their 
stuff zealously, but they have never made more than mod 
erate progress in ending duplication of work and the rivalries 
of various divisions that interfered with our operations. 

In my own job of handling the mail, I did a major part of 
the actual work myself for many years, getting assistance 
assigned to me only during periods of heavy mail deliveries, 
such as the inauguration of a new President or debate over 
some vital issue in national or international affairs. The 
need for help arose in the Wilson administration, but it 
skckened off some early in the nineteen-twenties, and the 
volume did not permanently become heavy until the Hoover 
administration, which was the beginning of the modern 
period of big-scale presidential mail. 

After I had begun to acquire a force of clerks on my own 
staff, I tried to develop in each administration systems for 
handling the mail that would fit in with the practices of other 
government divisions, particularly the divisions to which we 
necessarily had to forward much of the White House mail. 
This effort frequently backfired in the complex bureaucratic 
system that has grown up in Washington, because others took 
the position that we were trying to assume too much responsi 
bility, or that we were delegating disagreeable work to other 
divisions when we might be doing it ourselves. I spent a lot 
of time trying to keep our relations smooth so that we could 
get the co-operation of other divisions in handling the grow 
ing volume of mail. 

Another difficulty was that until 1946 only a few clerks 
were appointed by Executive Order to the White House 


"Dear Mr. President . . ? 

rolls. The great majority o the force was detailed for an 
indefinite period from various other departments of the Gov 
ernment. That is, most of the persons working at the White 
House actually were technically in the employment of other 
departments, such as Interior or Treasury, and were paid by 
appropriations Congress made for these other departments, 
which then detailed or lent them to the White House. 

Whenever we needed additional clerks we would send a 
statement of requisite qualifications to one of the departments 
and ask for a certain number to be detailed to us. In such 
cases, however, the White House did not normally put on 
pressure for well-qualified clerks, and we were likely to get 
clerks that the department felt wouldn't be missed much. 

I always felt this attitude was a mistake, and when addi 
tional clerks were being asked for the mail room I found 
excuses to designate particular persons whose ability I knew. 
Since the request came from the White House, they were 
usually made available, and I was able to keep my own staff 
at a high level. In fact, the greatest fault with my system was 
that I got some people detailed from other departments who 
were too good for the jobs in the mail room. 

I remember way back in McKinley's time that the Presi 
dent's inclination to be helpful and friendly resulted in the 
installation of one of the most unusual ushers in White House 
history. He was a Swiss who spoke English in a way that very 
few Americans could easily understand, and he got his job 
only because his wife was Mrs. McKinley's personal maid and 
the First Lady was very fond of her. The Swiss might have 
been a fine usher in Berne, but his poor English made him 


"Dear Mr. President . . ? 

an amusing figure in the White House, a circumstance that 
tie never realized as he went about his duties, which included 
showing visitors through the famous rooms on the first floor. 
He always ended up by explaining a few facts about how 
he got his job and saying: "I feel der responsi-beel-ity of der 

That was more than you could say for some of the persons 
who have drifted on and off the White House staff. I recall 
two boys who were assigned to me by one presidential secre 
tary. They were his personal friends, and were bright kids. 
One of them turned out to be the secretary's social assistant 
and the other one went to law school all day and reported at 
the White House in the evening, just in time to study for his 
classes the next day. They were nice boys, but they didn't 
give me any help. 

On the other hand* when commissions and experts were 
surveying efficiency at various times at the White House 
it was difficult for them to make allowances for fluctuation of 
work, especially in the mail room. One month there might be 
comparatively little to do and we would have periods of idle 
ness. The next month we might be forced to work late every 
night just to keep up with the stream of mail. Thus one period 
usually made up for the other, and if an investigator found 
a clerk reading the newspaper or one of the girls doing a little 
knitting, it did not mean that the Government's money was 
being wasted. That was a situation that existed during the 
entire period I worked at the White House, and I imagine 
that it will always be more or less that way. 

In general, however, we always had decent, efficient, hard- 


"Dear Mr. President . . ? 

working people in the mail room, and the Government got 
its money's worth. Some of the clerks stepped from the White 
House into private industry and with White House prestige 
behind them made wonderful successes in the business 

On the other hand, we had a few misfits. I recall one clerk 
with a phobia for violent exercise, which he told us took the 
form of swinging from tree to tree, a la Tarzan. Another was 
a bit overwhelmed by working at the White House, and 
represented himself elsewhere as an assistant secretary to the 
President until he was permitted to find another job. One of 
the messengers who did certain errands to stores around town 
always sought out the proprietors and told them he was 
"pulling" for them to get White House orders. In that way he 
collected cigars, liquor, chickens, and other items that he said 
would be used for a party for White House clerks. He was 
soon permitted to depart 

One clerk fell in love with the photograph of a Congress 
man's daughter and wrote her passionate love letters. The 
Congressman got wind of what was happening and moved 
in rapidly, removing the clerk from the premises. There was 
another clerk who stuck around for a long time trying to 
make something out of the prestige of working at the White 
House. He watched carefully for Cabinet members, Senators, 
and other prominent visitors, and usually managed to get 
around to greet them while they were waiting to get into 
the President's office. They had no idea who he was, but he 
always clapped them on the back, shook their hands, and 
shouted, "How are you, boy!" or, "If s a great day, eh, boy! ?> 


Mr. President . . " 

and of course they usually said yes, it was. The clerk worked 
hard at making friends in that manner for a long time, but 
he never did get very far and finally gave it up. It was a relief 
to some Senators when he departed, because they never had 
figured out who he was and felt embarrassed about asking. 

Well, Mr. Hoover tried to make a few improvements 
around the place and I guess he did. So many unhappy de 
velopments came along during his term that in the end it 
didn't seem to matter much whether the White House staff 
was running efficiently; the problem was whether the country 
was going to keep on running at all. 

The President was affable when we saw him, but that 
wasn't often. When he wanted something he would call us 
on the telephone., and his secretaries considered his time so 
valuable that they never let him waste it chatting with the 
office help. I always felt that this intense feeling of efficient 
and big-scale operations contributed to Mr. Hoove/s political 
difficulties. He was a good conversationalist and enjoyed a 
joke when he got a chance, but it always seemed that he was 
too busyor he was made to appear too busy and too efficient 
ever to relax and be himself. 

And of course as the country stumbled into a period of 
economic desperation Mr. Hoover was worried and harassed. 
He arranged a scientific check of the mail to watch the trend 
of public opinion on such matters as Prohibition, and then on 
the efforts that were made to combat the depression. He 
worried about propaganda mail without seeming fully to 
understand how much of it was cleverly inspired by his 
political foes. He was swayed by false hopes and fears, and 


"Dear Mr. President . . /' 

lie just couldn't seem to make up Ms miacL The mall for 
months was full of reports on bank failures and foreclosures 
which made it obvious that some action must be taken, yet 
Mr. Hoover delayed. He wanted to be sure before he did any 
thing, but by that time it was usually too late to make much 
difference, or he was frustrated by partisan politics. He read 
and absorbed wonderful reports from financial advisers at 
home and abroad, but about all that happened was that they 
went into a large filing cabinet, or so it seemed to me. 

His secretaries were no great help in those days. Lawrence 
Bichey was a good man who had come up from the Secret 
Service, but he could never win the sympathy of the news 
papermen. Walter R. Newton, the political secretary, was so 
ambitious in Minnesota that, according to newspaper reports, 
he let his own affairs interfere with the President's political 
welfare. Mr. Hoover, however, had implicit faith in him, and 
no one ever dared tell him the truth. 

The President worked at a terrific pace as conditions be 
came more critical. He was at his desk at all hours and got 
very little relaxation or exercise. He didn't like exercise any 
way, and when he was persuaded to toss a medicine ball 
around in the back yard he did it in halfhearted fashion. If 
the ball came his way he would catch it and throw it to some 
body, but he didn't make any effort to attract a toss. 

It became more and more difficult for his secretaries and 
his doctor to get him out of the White House for a week-end 
rest. The Marines had built a fine camp for him on the 
Rapidan River, and for a time he went there with week-end 
guests, usually Cabinet members, whom he put to work 


Mr. President . ." 

carrying stones to build a dam. They didn't care mucli for 
such hard labor, and later Mr. Hoover went to the camp 
only under strong pressure. 

Frequently it was announced that he would leave on Friday 
noon, but at 7 P.M. he would still be working at his desk. 
Many times he merely canceled the trip at the last minute, 
and we never knew for certain that he would go until his 
automobile had crossed the Potomac. Even then he might 
return the next day. This naturally made it difficult for the 
White House newspapermen, who never knew whether they 
would make a trip to the Rapidan or sit in Washington over 
the week end. It didn't help Mr. Hoover's press relations 
when they had to unpack their bags on Friday night, or when 
they had to make a last-minute scramble to get started. 

On one occasion the correspondents had decided not to 
prepare for the scheduled week-end trip because the several 
before had been called off. Then with about half an hour to 
spare they were told to be ready. They had been in the habit 
of taking a small supply of bootleg liquor with them, because 
it was always a dull week end at the small hotel at Culpeper 
near the President's camp where they stayed. This time they 
were not prepared, and one of them made a hurry-up call 
to the bootlegger. 

"Bring two gallons of alcohol and gin drops to the White 
House right away," he ordered. 

There was a long silence on the other end of the phone, 
and then a startled voice said: "I can't do that. It's a peni 
tentiary offense to take it to your house. God knows what it 
would be to take it to the White House!" 


"Dear Mr. President . . ." 

"Don't worry/' the reporter said. "Just stop at the door 
and tell the cop . . ." 

"The cop! No!" 

"Look, it's all right Tell the cop at the door that it's for 
me. Ill fix it" 

The bootlegger agreed only after being threatened with the 
loss of a lucrative part of his business, and he later walked, 
trembling and sweating, into the executive offices with a 
police escort. He emptied his satchel in the pressroom and 
departed, quietly but unbelievingly. I'm tempted to say Mr. 
Hoover wouldn't have believed it either, because he knew 
there was a law. But I don't think that would be correct. Mr. 
Hoover was always well informed on Prohibition as well as 
other issues, and my guess is that he believed the Eighteenth 
Amendment to be a failure. The trouble was that his thinking 
always seemed to me, anyway to be about a year ahead of 
his acting. 

Near the end of the Hoover administration, in the two- 
hundredth year after George Washington's birth, Jimmy 
Doolitde made an airmail flight that was of particular interest 
to me, and furthermore it gives me a chance to talk about 
stamp-collectors I knew, including a couple of Presidents. 
Doolitde, then a major in the Army Air Force, duplicated the 
route taken by Washington from New England, I believe, to 
Virginia. The pilot, of course, covered in a few hours the 
route that had taken Washington many days, and at each 
place where Washington had halted overnight he dropped a 
parachute 'bag of letters to be sent out from that post office. 
It was strictly a cover-collector's dream. 

"Dear Mr. President . . " 

The reason I remember it was that a friend of mine, Philip 
R. Hough, superintendent of the Washington Birthplace 
National Monument, was an avid collector of covers and 
stamps issued in connection with the Washington anni 
versary, and wrote me a plaintive letter asking for help. 

"Major Doolittle flew over here this morning and dropped 
a package of mail to go out from this post office," he said, "but 
of the thirty or forty letters there was none for this office" 
that is, the National Monument "I noticed one for the 
President, and suppose that they sent him others. If you have 
any duplicates, I sure would like to have the one from here." 

It happened that Mr. Hoover was also very much interested 
in stamps and covers and had a fine collection, to which he 
was constantly adding. I was reluctant to ask him to break 
the set in order to provide one for Hough, but finally I did, 
and he very graciously agreed when he learned that Hough's 
collection was to be framed and left at the Monument as a 
permanent exhibit. 

Mr. Hoover was the first real stamp-collector in the White 
House during my time. McKinley, T.R., Taft, Harding, 
Coolidge, and Wilson had no particular interest in the dis 
posal of stamps and we handled them however we saw fit. 
Mr. Hoover, however, wanted a close watch kept for any 
thing unusual to go into his collection, and kter of course 
Franklin Roosevelt had a magnificent collection, which he 
vastly increased during his years in the White House. 

F.D.R. probably knew more about stamp-collecting than 
any other President and enjoyed doing some of the work 
himself. The State Department and our office saved every 

"Dear Mr. President . . ? 

foreign and commemorative stamp for Mm. Our system was 
to lay them aside in a safe place instead of sending them over 
to him as we received them. Then one day we knew we would 
get a call and Mr. Roosevelt would say, "Where are my 
stamps?" That meant he was going to take an evening off 
to work over his albums and relax with tweezers and micro 

He selected only such stamps as he decided would properly 
go into his collection, and always carefully returned the 
others for distribution elsewhere. His stamp collection was 
superior, I believe, even to his collection of ship models, 
which was of very great value. 

Long before the Hoover and Roosevelt administrations, 
however, we had plenty of problems in connection with 
stamp-collectors. I supplied many covers and foreign stamps 
to private collectors at a time when the value of such col 
lections was not generally recognized, and I have regretted 
many times that I did not take advantage of the opportunity 
to build up a collection of my own during the years when 
nobody cared what became of used stamps. 

Eventually we developed a system for handling the stamps, 
because we realized that it was likely to become awkward if 
we supplied some private collectors and refused others. As a 
result we refused all private collectors some of whom 
eventually offered considerable sums of money and dis 
tributed stamps on a charitable basis as far as possible. During 
and since World War II there was and is an organization 
known as "Stamps for Veterans," which took stamps from our 
office and distributed them to veterans* hospitals where 

Mr. President . . ." 

wounded men were encouraged to engage in this hobby as 
a part of curative therapy. Earlier, a similar scheme had been 
worked out in connection with the Civilian Conservation 
Corps camps, with the help of the Interior Department. 

But in addition to these arrangements I always managed 
to keep a pretty fair collection of foreign and domestic stamps 
in my desk, and when kids wrote in to the President asking 
for stamps we were almost always able to send them some 
thing or other. Actually that was the way I would have liked 
to handle the whole stamp problem, but of course it wasn't 
practical especially it wasn't practical if the President hap 
pened to have a collection himself. 

Well, as things went along Mr. Hoover of course didn't 
have any time for stamp-collecting. He just kept working 
harder, and the state of the nation seemed to keep getting 
more and more uncomfortable. Or at least that's the way it 
seemed to me, because I had one of the most uncomfortable 
experiences of my career about that time in the latter half 
of 1931, to be exact. For a while I thought it would mean the 
end of my White House career when and if the Democrats 
came into power. 

The way it came about was this : Franklin Delano Roosevelt 
was emerging as a strong figure in the Democratic camp in 
the summer of 1931, and the Republicans had about decided 
he was the man they would have to beat if they were to stay 
in office. The political winds were blowing hard at the time, 
and one of the issues of which Mr. Roosevelt was trying to 
make political capital was a dispute over the proposed St. 
Lawrence River Seaway, in which Canada was just as much 


"Dear Mr. President . . /* 

interested as the United States. As Governor of New York, 
which would be benefited by the seaway, Mr. Roosevelt 
wrote to President Hoover asking for information as to the 
status of negotiations with Canada. The fate of this letter 
at a time when political controversy was growing bitter 
throughout the country touched off a strange sequence of 
events of vital interest to me. 

The villain in the case, from my viewpoint, was Time 
magazine, which on August 31, 1931, referred to the Roosevelt 
letter and said: 

When you write, address and mail a letter to President Herbert 
Hoover, The White House, Washington, D.C., it goes not to him, 
but to Ira Smith. Mr. Smith has a mustache. He sits at a big desk 
in the outer executive offices. . . . All day long he opens letters, 
scans them through gold-rimmed glasses. If your letter looks very 
important, he routes it to Private Secretary Theodore Joslin who 
may put it before the President. . . , [But] the chances are 
1,000-to-l against the President's ever seeing your letter at all 
. . . Presumably the letter [from Mr. Roosevelt] went to Ira 
Smith and thereafter was reported "lost" . . . When it did finally 
turn up with an answer at the State Department, much explain 
ing was necessary. 

I read the article with surprise and consternation surprise 
because I could not remember having seen the letter and 
consternation because it suggested that my office had been 
responsible for a blunder that would have very unfavorable 
political repercussions for the President, I made inquiries 
and discovered that my understudy, in my absence, had 
opened the letter from Governor Roosevelt, read it, and 
properly sent it to Mr. Hoover. The President directed that 


"Dear Mr. President . . /' 

the letter be sent to the Secretary of State, with a request for 
information upon which to base a reply. When the letter 
reached the State Department, Acting Secretary William R. 
Castle was hurrying out of his office to catch a train for a 
short holiday at Hot Springs, Virginia. It is probable that he 
shoved the letter into his pocket, dashed away and presum 
ably forgot about it. 

Castle, I suppose, discovered belatedly that the letter had 
not been answered. Just when this occurred I do not know, 
but the Acting Secretary was obviously in an awkward 
position. What to do? Castle had known Mr. Roosevelt for 
a long time, and he finally wrote him directly instead of re 
turning the letter and the requested information to Mr. 
Hoover. This he did addressing the Governor as "Dear 
Frank," and stating that no negotiations were then in prog 
ress with Canada. The result was to make it appear, how 
ever erroneously, that Mr. Roosevelt had suffered an affront 
because his letter to the President had been answered by 
someone else. 

Had Time magazine been correct in stating that the letter 
was reported 'lost" after it came to me, my job would have 
ended right then. The President could not have excused me 
if I had carelessly sent such a letter to the State Department 
in the first place, and thus contributed to a situation that re 
acted unfavorably against Mr. Hoover. Nor would Mr. 
Roosevelt have forgotten it The handling of the letter was 
an unhappy political blunder, but not on the part of the 
White House mail room. 

As a matter of record, Mr. Roosevelt did not forget the 


"Dear Mr. President . . " 

incident. When lie moved into the White House after the 
election, one of his early questions was, "How about this man 
Ira Smith?" He first asked Admiral Gary Grayson, who ex 
pressed confidence in me. That did not entirely satisfy the 
President, however, and he later discussed my work with 
Col. Edmund Starling, head of the White House Secret 
Service. Starling reassured him, and Mr. Roosevelt finally 
dropped the matter when he had learned the full story. 

When Mr. Hoover left the White House for good, we felt 
that we were witnessing the departure of an able and brilliant 
executive who had played into more hard luck than any 
President in many years. The personal files of the President, 
which were removed to his home at Palo Alto, contained a 
remarkable record of hard work and scientific planning that 
the public never heard much about. One reason they didn't 
hear about it was that a great hullabaloo was being raised 
about a coming attraction that was to turn the White House 
upside down for quite a few years. It was something called 
the New Deal. 



Deal into the White House during the great depression, 
it seemed as if everyone in the country was looking for a job 
except the new President and me. Both of us had our hands 
full, and then some. 

During the last days of the Hoover administration the 
White House had been becalmed in a period of waiting, and 
my job of handling the President's mail had been compara 
tively routine, with only a few hundred letters a day coming 
in. With the arrival of F.D.R., we suddenly had action, new 
faces and Roosevelts all over the place, and so many tons 
of mail that, as I will explain later, we had to establish an 
entire new system for handling it. 

Mr. Roosevelt always showed a keen interest in the mail 
and kept close watch on its trend. Nothing pleased him more 
than to know that I had to build up a big staff and often had 
to work until midnight to keep up with a run of SOCK) to 8000 
letters a day, and on some occasions many more thousands. 
He received regular reports on what was coming in, and 
frequently we sent him unusual letters, from which, with 

"Dear Mr. President . . " 

a fine knack for publicity, he would pick out material for 
newspaper stories. 

Whenever there was a decrease in the influx of letters we 
could expect to hear from him or one of his secretaries, who 
wanted to know what was the matter was the President los 
ing his grip on the public? Everybody in the executive offices 
was keenly aware of the value of good public relations, and 
there was a lot of emphasis on proper handling of letters and 
of information for the newspapers. 

Steve Early, the press secretary, was the sort of expert who 
could and did interrupt the President's talks with reporters 
to order, "Don't say that,** or, "Don't answer that," and make 
it stick. But not everybody could be as experienced or as 
skillful in saying the right thing at the right time, and fre 
quently we had some amusing complications because of 
the President's desire to show the greatest possible con 
sideration to everyone who wrote to the White House in 
those troubled days. 

On one occasion a cement worker in California wrote to 
Mr. Roosevelt and said that he had an exhibit of unusual 
craftsmanship which he wanted the President to see. Miss 
Margaret Le Hand, the President's personal secretary, wrote 
a pleasant letter in reply and told him that Mr. Roosevelt 
would be "interested in your exhibit" 

Nobody gave it another thought until some weeks later, 
when a stranger came into the office and told me he had 
just arrived from California to erect an exhibit for the Presi 
dent. He said he had the exhibit outside, and where could he 
put it up? I went to the door and saw a huge truck pulled 
up at the curb. 

"Dear Mr. President . . /' 

"Just Bold everything," I told him. I checked the corre 
spondence, and talked to the man about the size of his 
exhibit Then I advised Miss Le Hand that her invitation 
had been accepted, and where did she want the exhibit put? 
She finally arranged for him to use a hallway in the base 
ment, and he began unloading large and complicated pieces 
o cement that looked like a cross between the Lincoln 
Memorial and a Coney Island roller-coaster. 

He sweated and fussed around for a week, and finally put 
together a structure that was about eight feet by eight feet 
and reached almost to the ceiling. Apparently it was a castle 
in miniature. It had electric lights, music by radio, bells, 
chimes, and water that ran through the miniature rooms and 
into moats and over falls illuminated by colored lights. He 
had to use a network of hose and wires to get the thing into 
operation, and fuses were always blowing out or the water 
overflowed or something. The day he finally put it on display 
we went over to look, and it was fantastically unreal, with 
music playing, -bells ringing, lights flashing, and water swirl 
ing all around. 

Then it developed that the creator of this little number was 
in real life the builder of elaborate fishpools and similar 
decorative contrivances for gardens, and he wanted the 
President to endorse his creation, which he hoped to put on 
exhibition in various theaters. Mr. Roosevelt would not even 
go to look at it, and it was eventually carted back to California 
on a freight carat quite an expense to the builder, but to 
the great relief of Miss Le Hand. 

The cement castle seemed like quite a lot of excitement at 


Mr. President . . /* 

the time, but we soon learned to take such things in our 
stride as the New Dealers got down to business. There were 
Roosevelts and in-laws all over the landscape from then on. 
Nice, friendly people, too. Always something going on. 

The thing that was going on most steadily was a stream 
of letters to F.D.R. demanding to know why in hel he didn't 
put his foot down and stop this habit his wife had of being 
constantly on the run somewhere or other and of always 
poking around in other people's business. Tm. putting it 
mildly, of course, because the persons who wrote letters of 
that sort to the President were likely to use the most violent 

IVe heard various suggestions as to Mr. Roosevelt's re 
action to these letters, and I feel sure that he valued his wif e*s 
firsthand knowledge of conditions. But it always seemed to 
me that Mrs. Roosevelt was going to lead her own life in 
her own way and there was not much the President or anyone 
else could say other than "What can I do about it?** 

Mrs. Roosevelt got a huge mail, and there was much more 
approval of her actions than disapproval She was always 
being asked for something or to do something or to intervene 
with the President. Many, many times she did pass along 
suggestions to various department heads and Cabinet mem 
bers, and of course she helped a lot of people get jobs. After 
she started writing the newspaper column "My Day/* her 
mail increased, and she had to build up a separate staff to 
handle it. Eventually, it included about a dozen girls and 
several men. I had to assign one of my clerks just to handle 
the letters that her staff referred to me concerning matters 

"Dear Mr. President . . ." 

that were strictly the business of various departments, to 
which we forwarded them. 

The real crisis came, however, over one of the most famous 
of the Roosevelt clan the little bkck Scotty named Falla. 
We first saw Falla when Buzzie and Sistie Dall sometimes 
played up and down the halls with the dog in pursuit. They 
reminded me of the Teddy Roosevelt days, but not so noisy. 
There were stories about Falla in the newspapers, and soon 
letters began coming in for the dog. They were, I believe, the 
most sickening letters that ever got into the White House 
mail Some woman with a dog would sit down and compose 
the damnedest pap as if her little doggie were writing to the 
President's little doggie, and it was enough to make you ill. 
When the Falla letters began arriving in large numbers, most 
of them "signed" with a dog's footprint, I rebelled. I sent all 
Falla correspondence over to Mrs. Roosevelt's social secretary, 

"Ill take plenty/' I said, *l>ut I refuse to be a dog's 

I didn't have anything against FaHa, but the best dogs 
around the White House were the Roosevelts* Irish setters. 
They were beauties, and they sometimes liked to stretch out 
beside the President's desk, lying quietly but alert, when he 
had visitors* They were there during one little affair we at 
tended in his office, and I spoke to Mr. Roosevelt about them 
merely because we didn't have anything else to talk about 
while waiting for the other guests to come in. 

"Have those setters ever been hunted, Mr. President?" I 


"Dear Mr. President . . ? 

I supposed he was going to say no, but Mrs. Roosevelt 
didn't give him a chance. She had overheard my question 
and obviously thought I was going to suggest something. 
She leaned over toward me and said, with considerable 

"No, and they're never going to be hunted either. They're 
household pets." 

Mrs. Roosevelt was the most written-about and the most 
written-to First Lady, but she took it all in her stride, and I 
doubt that she ever lost her temper over anything critical 
that was ever said about her. She was too busy being herself. 

Of all the new presidential aides, Louis Howe was prob 
ably the most unusual; certainly he was the strangest presi 
dential secretary I ever knew. He was, of course, so ill that 
he would not last long, and he seemed to realize it A slight, 
thin-faced man, he never wasted a word or a motion. He ob 
viously tried to conserve his waning strength and never 
lifted a hand around the office if he could avoid it. He didn't 
even sign all his own letters. He mostly seemed to fust sit and 
watch and listen, and I suppose he was Mr. Roosevelt's most 
valuable adviser. Without seeming to do anything, Howe kept 
close track of everything that went on. Even our mental 
attitudes. Once his secretary wandered into my office, possibly 
on Howe's instructions, and in the course of a chat asked me 
what I really thought of the President 

Now I considered Mr. Roosevelt one of the most remark 
able men I had ever seen operating at close range, and all 
of us were glad to see that at last we were getting some action 
around the White House. But her question obviously was a 


"Dear Mr. President . . " 

bit more personal. My impression at that time was that the 
President was always playing his part like a good actor. He 
was jovial, chatty, and informal, and this struck me as an 
almost professional attitude of good-fellowship. He could 
turn on his dazzling smile as if somebody had pressed a 
button and sent a brilliant beam from a lighthouse out across 
the sea shining on whatever ship happened to be there. I 
never felt, as I suppose most people did, that there was any 
thing particularly personal about his manner toward me. 
And why should there have been? 

So I merely said, "The President seems to be the most 
politic man I ever saw." 

She looked at me in amazement and then bristled with 
indignation. She stoutly denied that my observation was 
even partly correct. She obviously felt that whenever Mr. 
Roosevelt gave her a pleasant look it was something very 
specially reserved for her, and I think the President had the 
ability to make that impression on most persons, both great 
and small. I don't mean that his friendliness was insincere. 
I mean it was just a charming, almost irresistible knack that 
he used, perhaps, subconsciously. 

He could even do it over the radio, much to my distress. 
When he advised millions of listeners in one of his fireside 
chats to "tell me your troubles, 5 * most of them believed im 
plicitly that he was speaking to them personally and im 
mediately wrote him a letter. It was months before we 
managed to swim out of that flood of mail. 

The President's most prolific correspondents, strangely 
enough, were two well-known characters who also called 


"Dear Mr. President . . " 

on him regularlySecretary of Interior Harold Ickes and 
Secretary of Agriculture Henry Wallace. Both of them wrote 
to Mr. Roosevelt frequently and lengthily. In fact, at one 
time it got so we could expect a letter from Ickes on some 
subject or other almost every day at three o'clock in the 
afternoon presumably after he had wrestled with an idea at 
the luncheon table and then had time to get it down on paper. 
Ickes always impressed me as an outstanding Secretary 
of Interior, but he couldn't possibly mind his own business. 
His letters covered a wide field of subjects, and were 
especially frequent during the period when Mr. Roosevelt 
was pushing the Supreme Court "packing" bill. Wallace's 
letters did not cover so wide a range, but had little to do 
with his own department He wanted to run the State 
Department by giving advice directly to the President on how 
to handle foreign affairs. 

Of all the Roosevelt advisers, I suppose the most disliked 
was Harry Hopkins. I didn't care much for him myself, but 
I developed a sort of grudging admiration for the way he 
operated. He gave the impression of being sloppy, lazy, in 
different, and sometimes ruthless. That impression was not 
very accurate. Like Louis Howe, he was desperately ill and 
needed to conserve his strength. He would listen to a long 
discussion of some problem without saying a word or giving 
any sign of interest. Then he would settle the matter with 
perhaps one sentence or merely a nod in answer to a question. 
Usually settled it for good, too. 

Another person who made his appearance around the 
White House during the Roosevelt days was George Allen, 


"Dear Mr. President . . ." 

whom F.D.R. made a Commissioner for tlie District of 
Columbia. One day Allen passed word along that the Presi 
dent had agreed to permit use of his name by the National 
Foundation for Infantile Paralysis, of which Basil O'Connor 
was head. He said a little stunt had been arranged to raise 
money for the Foundation in connection with the President's 
birthday, and that it was being suggested on two radio shows 
Eddie Cantor and the Lone Ranger that people send dimes 
for the Foundation to the White House as contributions. 

"It's all very unofficial, of course, but keep your eyes open," 
Allen said. "You may get a trickle of dimes in the mail." 

It was a remark 111 never forget Both Cantor and the Lone 
Ranger did talk about the campaign on their shows, and the 
Lone Ranger urged kids to send a dime each to the President 
for use in fighting infantile paralysis. Two days later the roof 
fell in on me. We had been handling about 5000 letters a 
day at that time. We got 80,000 on the day the March of 
Dimes began producing. We got 50,000 the next day. We got 
150,000 the third day. We kept on getting incredible num 
bers, and the Government of the United States darned near 
stopped functioning because we couldn't clear away enough 
dimes to find the official White House mail. 

I screamed for help as soon as my staff could get the bags 
full of dimes piled up enough to let me get out of the office. 
We got fifty extra postal clerks, but we still couldn't find 
anything but scrawled and finger-marked envelopes from 
every kid who could get his hands on a dime. Picking out the 
President's official mail was like looking for a needle in a 
haystack. Replies to invitations that Mrs. Roosevelt had sent 


"Dear Mr. President . . ? 

out for a formal dinner were buried under tens of thousands 
of letters from all over the United States and Canada. She 
didn't get them until two weeks after the dinner, 

We began sending bags of mail to the offices of the various 
presidential secretaries, and they dug into them in searcrh for 
important letters they were expecting. Judge Rosenman 
abandoned writing the President's speeches and began sort 
ing mail. Mrs. James Roosevelt volunteered to help. The 
stenographers and anybody else available spent all then- 
spare time fumbling through huge stacks of letters, many of 
the staff voluntarily working hours of overtime without pay* 
The offices, desks, and corridors were stacked with mail 
sacks, and we had to put police on special duty each night 
when we finally closed up and went wearily home. 

It was days before we began to restore some kind of 
routine and it was four months before we had cleaned up the 
debris. Being completely inexperienced in such enterprises^ 
we had to devise a special set-up to handle the 2,680,000 
dimes that rolled in during the campaign. 

The first wave of response in 1938 was largely from chil 
dren, because the Lone Ranger had emphasized the idea of 
putting a dime in an envelope and sending it to the President. 
Every time we emptied a mailbag $8 or $10 worth of loose 
coins that had cut through the envelopes would fall out 
Then, as the idea grew, dimes were sent in all sorts of ways 
that caused additional work. I developed a deep bitterness 
toward persons who used scotch tape to stick coins on a card. 
Every dime we received that way had to be washed in a 
special solution we finally found fire-extinguisher fluid was 


"Dear Mr. President . . ." 

best before the Treasury would accept it Once we got 100 
yards of dimes in scotch tape. 

Other dimes were received in a wax design the size of a 
football. We had to boil it down. Thousands were baked 
into birthday cakes. Once we had to break up a concrete brick 
loaded with coins. A woman who wanted to contribute but 
had no money had her hair cut off and sent it in with the 
suggestion that we sell it. It brought eighty dimes. We re 
ceived an aluminum cane made of hollow tubing into which 
were jammed 650 dimes. A gallon can containing $300 arrived 
from a bomber squadron. 

One donor punched a hole in a dime (making it worthless) 
and tied it with twine to a huge cardboard tag labeled ''The 
White House." I sent it around for Mr. Roosevelt to see. He 
kept the dime and returned the card with a new dime to go 
in the collection and a note saying, "I hope you have a good 
dime.'* One of the clerks kept the President's dime to give to 
his grandchild as a memento, putting another in its place. 
I didn't tell him that, as usual, Mr. Roosevelt had no money 
in his pocket and that his secretary had furnished the 
memento coin. 

During the big rush of dime mail one of our biggest jobs 
was just counting the money, but kter we merely weighed it 
after separating the silver from the checks and currency. Then 
I would send it over to the Treasury in an armored car with 
two Secret Service men carrying tommy guns and they would 
give me currency to turn over to the Foundation. Later we 
got an army truck with a guard to deliver the silver. The 
campaign grew in later years and we received more than 

"Dear Mr. President . . /* 

$1,500,000 in 1945, when there were larger contributions and 
not so many letters as in the first year. 

People still kept thinking up spectacular ways to deliver 
dimes, however. In one publicity stunt, 600,000 dimes were 
sent under guard from Los Angeles, where they had been 
contributed by listeners to a radio breakfast program. The 
trip cost $670, whereas a check could have been mailed 
for 3 cents. Upon arrival, the people in charge wanted to 
present the coins personally to Mr. Roosevelt. Part of the 
silver was put on the elevator, but the load was too much 
and it wouldn't move. The publicity stunt was a bit over 
loaded, too, and ended at that point. 

After the first year, we made special preparations for the 
March of Dimes, taking on extra clerks in January and keep 
ing them until we cleaned up the work in March, but I never 
saw George Allen after that without a shudder, A "trickle 
of dimes/* indeed! 

After Mr. Roosevelt had the executive offices rebuilt to 
provide more room there was a basement under all of the 
structure except the Cabinet room and a part of the Presi 
dent's office. The rest of his office was directly over a store 
room which divided in the middle by a wire partition, thus 
forming a cage where we put many of the thousands of odd 
gifts that came to the White House. A ventilator leading to 
the President's office was inside the wire cage, which was 
securely locked. 

One day the Secret Service men came to me and said they 
were worried about the ventilator, which opened outside 
the building. It might, they said, occur to some crank to 


"Dear Mr. President . . /* 

plant a bomb in the ventilator, since it was under the Presi 
dent's desk They said It had been decided to make some 
structural changes to eliminate the possibility. They took a 
key to the cage and in the next day or so workmen arrived 
and began making changes. The next time I went into the 
cage I took a look at what they had done. A wooden partition 
about five feet by four had been constructed from floor to 
ceiling. It had a door that was securely padlocked. I was 
curious about it, because it was the strangest bomb-preven 
tion device I could imagine. 

One of the President's most skillful stenographers did his 
work in the basement offices near my desk and had a key to 
the wire cage. I noticed that he frequently went to the cage, 
and one day when I was there he came out of the little room. 
The door was open and I saw a small desk and a chair in 
side. I nodded to the stenographer. 

"OK," I said, "got a machine in there, eh?" 

He laughed. "I was just getting some reports from up 
stairs," he said. 

I didn't say anything more, but I noticed that the stenog 
rapher frequently went to the little room, where he obviously 
took down whatever conversation went on in the President's 
office. We never discussed it, and I guess my staff kept on 
believing the Secret Service story about bomb prevention. 

Contacts around the White House were free and easy 
during the New Deal, and the Roosevelts were always 
thoughtful of the staff. The President received hundreds of 
birthday cakes each year, and he would pick out one of the 
grandest and invite everybody in for tea. Mrs. Roosevelt 


Mr. President . . ? 

usually came too, and sometimes brought her own guests. 
The President seemed to enjoy these breaks in the routine 
more than anyone else, and he made everybody feel at 

On one occasion when the cake was brought in he re 
marked that it was a particularly handsome one. On the top 
was a coach with six horses molded in spun sugar. Then, with 
a twinkle in his eye, the President turned to Gus Gennerich, 
a Secret Service man, and said in a commanding voice: 

"Gus, bring me George Washington's sword that I may cut 
this cake!" 

Everybody loved it, and the girls all gasped, but when It 
came to cutting the fruit cake the President used an ordinary 
knife. Most of the girls on the staff secretly wrapped their 
slices of cake in their handkerchiefs to take home as souvenirs. 
I ate mine. It was very tasty. 

There was always about Mr. Roosevelt a kind of infectious 
confidence and buoyancy that was felt by those who worked 
with him, and even by those who saw him only occasionally. 
But during the terrible years of World War II there was a 
drastic change both in the President and in the atmosphere 
around the White House. Mr. Roosevelt soon became ab 
sorbed in the long-range war and postwar problems, and 
gave less and less attention to immediate political and 
governmental questions at home. Matters that he would have 
handled personally during his first two terms were frequently 
delegated to subordinates, and this led to blunders, quarrels, 
and misunderstandings. Many letters, particularly from mem 
bers of Congress, came to the White House in those days 


"Dear Mr. President . . ?* 

complaining that affairs of political importance were being 
neglected or were being bungled in strange contrast to the 
White House operations before the war. 

It has always seemed to me that Mr. Roosevelt's with 
drawal from such matters in order to devote himself to the 
war problems may have opened the way for later charges that 
Communist-minded persons had infiltrated into government 
positions. The President was too astute a politican in normal 
times to fail to foresee and halt conditions that later gave 
rise to Congressional investigation of alleged Communist 
spying. But in the war days Mr. Roosevelt was preoccupied, 
and inclined to shove such matters aside in favor of grandiose 
global planning. 

This was true before we actually got into the war, but 
when Pearl Harbor came, the trend was drastically inten 
sified- There was also a sudden change in all White House 
affairs. A bomb shelter was built underground at the east end 
of the White House and everybody got a gas mask. We were 
lectured by Army officers and had regular air-raid drills. 
Everybody had to keep his gas mask on his desk, and every 
so often the fire gongs would ring the air-raid alarm and we 
would assemble in specified offices for drill. My office was 
one of the assembly points and I was in charge there, which 
meant that I had a gas mask I could talk through. Nobody 
eke could talk through his gas mask. It was rather pleasant 
on those occasions. 

Soldiers were moved into the barracks south of the old 
State Department Building and a guard line was established 
around the White House. At intervals a patrol, fully armed, 


"Dear Mr. President . . ." 

would march around the yard changing the guard, which was 
maintained day and night. 

The wartime secrecy and precautions for protection of the 
President added considerably to our work, especially since 
many new figures, both military and civilian, were suddenly 
thrust to the foreground of governmental affairs. A good num 
ber of them had strange ideas about what should be "top 
secret" or "for the eyes of the President only." This was 
especially true of the State Department, which was overrun 
with young squirts who thought that anything that passed 
through their hands or was received in code was too secret 
for anyone but the Chief Executive to see. It took us quite a 
while to convince them that it would be all right for us to 
handle translations of birthday messages and similar com 
munications from foreign dignitaries, even in wartime. 

Every White House employee was checked by the Secret 
Service or the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and if there 
was the slightest suspicion of any person, that person was 
removed or transferred. We had one girl of foreign descent 
in our office who caused some concern. One day the Secret 
Service came around and asked me to hold out any mail she 
received at the office. 

"There's something funny going on," I was told. "This girl 
has been using White House stationery to write to a fellow 
in New York who has connections with the I. G. Farben outfit 
in Germany ? 

I don t know what else the Secret Service did in investigat 
ing that case, but they certainly watched her mail. They even 
went through the wastebasket by her desk every evening 


"Dear Mr. President . . " 

after she left the office, and that is where they finally struck 
pay dirt. One evening they found the wastebasket full of 
half -written letters to the man, all of them crumpled up into 
balls. When they were smoothed out and read it was obvious 
that she had been having a quarrel with the New Yorker, 
and just as obvious that she was trying to compose a love 
letter that would patch things up. Either that, or she was 
using an interesting code language. As far as I know, the only 
thing the Secret Service discovered was an unsuspected love 
affair. But just to be on the safe side the girl was transferred 
anyway without ever knowing that she had been the object 
of investigation. 

The tenor of mail to the President changed, too, after Pearl 
Harbor. I recall that before we got into World War I many 
pro-German letters came to the White House. There were 
pro-Germans on the White House staff at that time, too, and 
they didn't hesitate to express their opinions, because most 
Americans considered the European struggle begun in 1914 
to be of no concern to us as a nation. But World War II 
found Mr. Roosevelt strongly opposed to the Axis from the 
beginning, and this position was reflected in the mail. There 
were many protests against war in general, but letters favor 
ing the Axis were few and far between, while large numbers 
of persons wrote in to praise the President or to urge that he 
take a still stronger stand. 

After Pearl Harbor, there was a flood of letters and tele 
grams urging the President not to "get excited" and not to 
"rush headlong into war/' but by the time these arrived we 
were already at war and the mail room was overburdened 
with angry letters demanding elimination of the Japanese and 

"Dear Mr. President . . . ?> 

offering the writers* services in the war effort. At this time 
somebody spread the idea that the Government needed fine 
human hair in the manufacture o precision instruments such 
as bombsights, and we received contributions enough to make 
a rope stretching from Washington to Berlin. We sent them 
over to the Bureau of Standards, which probably dumped 
them in the wastebasket. Large sums of money also were 
sent in, usually in very small amounts, with letters urging 
the Government to use the money for bullets to be fired in 
the war against the Japanese. All such funds were turned 
over to the Treasury. 

The strain on the President and those close to him some 
times seemed almost unbearable in the early days of the war, 
but Mr. Roosevelt stood up under it better than almost any 
one else. We saw him less often because of the tight wartime 
regulations and the pressure of his work, but during the first 
year he merely seemed a bit older and, naturally, less jovial. 
But after that it began to be apparent that his condition was 
deteriorating, and there was a good deal of concern about 
his health before the 1944 election campaign when he began 
to suffer from periodic colds and failed to bounce back as 
rapidly as in the past 

People began writing in to ask about his condition, -but the 
official position of the White House was always reassuring, 
as perhaps it should be in such circumstances. I would not, 
of course, pretend to any knowledge of medicine, but 
strictly from the viewpoint of a layman who occasionally 
saw the President it seemed to me that Mr. Roosevelt^ health 
was far from robust. 

There was, naturally, an inclination to 'be reassuring and 

"Dear Mr. President . . ?* 

to avoid causing alarm. Furthermore, the state of the Presi 
dent's health was of tremendous importance in international 
affairs at a critical point in world history. These things ob 
viously entered into the reassuring White House and other 
authoritative statements, but we of the staff knew the Presi 
dent was not his old self. 

In January, at the beginning of F.D.R/s fourth term, my 
wife and I received a note from Presidential Secretary 
Early inviting us to attend a Service of Intercession on the 
twentieth. We arrived at the White House that Saturday just 
as General of the Army George C. Marshall and his wife went 
in ? and we were all taken immediately to the East Room, 
where rows of chairs had been arranged in a semicircle. The 
ladies of the Roosevelt family sat together just in front of us, 
each of them carrying a bouquet of violets. Mrs. Roosevelt* s 
was enormous and the perfume was strong in the room. The 
choir from St. John's Church was massed near the big 
windows, where their robes made a warm spot of color 
among the display of flags. 

The President sat in the center of the front row and 
beside him or behind him were the great names of his ad 
ministrationthe great names of a bitter war that was just 
turning toward a day when victory could no longer be 
denied. It was a friendly gathering, yet solemn and full of 
portent, as if these men realized that the tragic years of war 
now nearing an end were only the beginning of the test our 
country must face. Mr. Roosevelt must have thought, too, 
of his impending journey to the Yalta Conference. 

The choir sang "O God, our help in ages past ... be 


"Dear Mr. President . . ? y 

Thou our guide/ 1 and there were prayers for the President of 
the United States and for our country and for our enemies 
and for victory. 

When the services ended, we stood very silent for a mo 
ment and then for a few moments more as we waited for 
the President to depart. But he made no move. His wheel 
chair was brought in by an attendant but, almost impatiently, 
he motioned it away. Everyone watched and waited, and still 
the President remained in his chair. His daughter Anna turned 
to face us and smiled. With a little shrug she seemed to say, 
"Well, he has something on his mind." 

Finally, without a word, Mr. Roosevelt turned as if he had 
awakened from a deep reverie and beckoned to us. We all 
seemed to understand what he wanted and we formed a line 
that filed past him so that he could shake hands with each 
one. When I stepped close to him I was shocked to see how 
tired and ill he looked, how gray and old and thin he had 
become. He didn't say anything. Just shook hands. 

The death of Mr. Roosevelt at Warm Springs, however, was 
a shock to all of us. I had been inclined to draw a comparison 
with the illness of Woodrow Wilson and to fear that the 
President's health would continue to decline gradually. The 
news flash from Warm Springs therefore was as much a sur 
prise to us as to the rest of the world. For weeks after 
Mr. Roosevelt died we received letters demanding an in 
vestigation of his death and suggesting that there had been 
foul play, but of course none of them was based on any 
knowledge of the facts. 

After the funeral, Mrs. Roosevelt asked all the staff to 

"Dear Mr. President . . .** 

come around on April 20 to say good-by. Mrs. Boettiger, 
James Roosevelt and Ms wife, and Faye Emerson Roosevelt 
were with her. When we returned to our desks, each of us 
found there one of the countless little trinkets with which the 
President had always littered his own desk. Mrs. Roosevelt 
had sent them around as mementos. Mine was a little gray 



dreamed and schemed of tow to get to live in the White 
House, and some of them have been unpleasantly surprised 
and disappointed when they made the grade. The disappoint 
ment was political or social in some instances, but most 
First Ladies have suffered varying degrees of unhappiness 
about the deplorable condition of the White House and their 
inability to get anything done about it. 

It's an uncomfortable old mansion. It always needs repairs. 
It was once infested "with rats, some rooms were so damp 
that the paper peeled, it had an antique heating system, and 
when the Harry Trumans moved in it was clear that some 
thing had to be done or one of these days the roof would fall 
in. No wonder new occupants were often surprised and dis 

It remained, however,, for the Harry Trumans to reverse 
the procedure of the past. They were not eager in the begin 
ning to take up residence in the White House, and Mrs. Bess 
Truman especially was not highly excited by the prospect of 
social or political goings-on. They felt they had been thrust 


"Dear Mr. President . . /* 

by fate into the old mansion, and they seemed to expect the 

worst Naturally, it wasn't as bad as all that. But the interest 
ing thing to me was that it was the Trumans who finally did 
something about the White House. That was, in its own way, 
quite an achievement for any President 

The condition of the presidential mansion as I have in 
dicated before, was a disgrace to the nation when I first went 
to Washington during the McKinley administration, and 
despite various changes and repairs, it remained in a more or 
less disgraceful state right up to the time I retired in 1948. 
At the turn of the century, the walls of the place were con 
stantly damp, the floors were warped, and the stairs were 
creaky and rickety. I remember once when one of the famous 
billiard champions of the day was invited to give an ex 
hibition at the White House. He arrived eager and willing, 
but the table in the billiard room had been so nearly ruined 
by dampness that he could scarcely drive a ball around it. 
He soon gave up the attempt. 

The mansion was not called the White House officially in 
those days, but was known as the Executive Mansion, because 
it contained the crowded presidential offices as well as the 
living quarters of the President's family. It was adjacent to 
low swampy ground that ran down to the Potomac, and a 
rainy spell would bring water up as high as what is now 
Constitution Avenue. The mosquitoes flourished in the stand 
ing water along the flats between the mansion and the river, 
and the neighborhood was so unhealthy that White House 
grounds police had to be shifted at regular intervals because 
so many developed malaria. The President, however, didn't 
have anybody to shift with. 

"Dear Mr. President . . * 

A few changes in the White House and the grounds are 
naturally made with every administration, but in McKInley's 
time all efforts to get Congress to appropriate needed funds 
for repairs were futile, and almost nothing was done. The 
only changes I recall were the removal of the sentry box that 
had stood on the grounds since the Civil War, when it was 
built to shelter guards on cold nights, and the filling in of a 
cistern that Mrs. Rutherford Hayes had had built on the 
southeast corner of the White House. The cistern had an 
engine to pump drinking water to the private apartments 
upstairs, and was considered quite a fancy addition to the 
place during the Hayes administration. 

But even if the McKinleys couldn't get anything done, they 
got a great many suggestions for tearing down the mansion 
and building a new one on higher ground. Mrs. Mary Foote 
Henderson, whose husband had been a Senator, carried on 
quite a vigorous campaign in 1898 for a new mansion on 
Meridian Hill, where it was proposed to develop large 
terraces and gardens that would overlook the city. There were 
a lot of suggestions for other sites then and later, but they 
never got anywhere, and I guess George Washington's 
original choice of a building lot wasn't so bad after all, 
because none of the tenants I knew ever threatened to break 
the lease on 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. 

Teddy Roosevelt got something done when lie became 
President, including the building of the executive-offices 
wing, but he came in for a lot of criticism by newspapers that 
regarded the changes as contrary to the original architectural 
conception. The Washington Post described the wing as "a 
wart on the White House/' and various political foes of the 

"Dear Mr. President , . !* 

President took up the criticism in Congress and elsewhere. 
T.R., however, had studied the old plans of the mansion, and 
the repairs and changes that were undertaken then were in 
line with the original plans. He went right ahead without 
paying much attention to his critics. The greenhouse was 
eliminated and became a passageway to the offices. The old 
glass partition in the main lobby of the mansion was taken 
away, and the old staircases were removed to make way for a 
grand staircase at the east end of the corridor. These changes 
made the place look better, but they did nothing much about 
the roof or the floor supports in die living quarters, which 
were to become a problem later. 

There was a lot of mail at the time in favor of or opposing 
the changes in the mansion, and I was amazed by the interest 
people everywhere took in the preservation of historic build 
ings. For the most part, the writers were perfectly willing for 
the presidential family to be as comfortable as possible, but 
not at the sacrifice of a national shrine. 

The rumpus quieted down by the time Mr. Taft was 
President, and he had no trouble in getting authorization to 
double the size of the executive offices to take care of our 
greatly expanded staff. There were some roof and attic re 
pairs made during the Coolidge administration, but on 
Christmas Eve of 1929, during Mr. Hoover's term, fire gutted 
the interior of the offices and did great damage. We were in 
a state of confusion for months after that, and for a while 
my desk was a billiard table in the basement of the mansion. 

The offices were remodeled by F.D.R. and the working 
space about tripled. A new kitchen, a carpenter shop, and 


"Dear Mr. President . . .** 

storage vaults under the north porch and the roadway were 
installed, and the east-wing offices were added for police, pro 
tective research for the Secret Service, and Mrs. Roosevelt* s 
correspondence section. 

Mr. Truman wanted to do some additional construction, 
including an auditorium and a cafeteria, on the west end of 
the executive office, as well as offices for various administra 
tive assistants, but somebody talked about it carelessly to 
the reporters and the old cry of "destroying" the historic 
White House was raised again. It was a pretty vicious cam 
paign while it lasted, with the Washington newspapers for 
the most part attacking the plans. 

Mr. Truman already had the reluctant approval o the 
Fine Arts Commission and an appropriation from Congress, 
but so much fuss was raised that Congress finally revoked 
the appropriation, although work had already started. The 
result was a lot of confusion around the executive offices and 
a lot more inconvenience, but the thing that I rather liked was 
that the President didn't let his critics get him down. He 
came right back with plans for the famous balcony on the 
White House itself, and put it through in the face of the most 
bitter opposition from experts who accused him of making 
a farce of the original architectural plans. 

Not many persons realize how keen a student of history 
Mr. Truman has been for many years, and in this instance he 
demonstrated that he knew more about the original plans 
than the experts did. He produced evidence that the original 
drawing for the mansion provided for just the sort of balcony 
he had built, but his evidence didn't come out until after 

Mr. President . . ? 

the big newspaper rumpus over the Truman porch had died 
down, and so, few people realized that the President was 
an easy winner in the argument To say nothing of getting 
a place where he can take his ease after a hard day's work 
running the country. 

After Mr, Truman had finally forced die issue on White 
House repairs and Congress was ready to spend $1,000,000 
fixing things up, the real story began to come out Engineers 
discovered that it was a miracle that the place hadn't fallen 
down long ago. The structural deficiencies were so great that 
they would have caused any other building to have been con 
demned as a menace. Only a two-inch beam kept the Presi 
dent's private bathroom from tumbling into the basement 
For years, the experts discovered, the most famous figures in 
the nation and in the world had been standing frequently 
under the heavy ornamental ceiling of the famous East Room, 
which was likely to fall at any time. It had been completely 
loosened from the beams and was held up only by nails. 
Well, after having spent many thousands of hours in the 
place during the last half century, I was happy to take my 
hat off to Mr. Truman for getting something done about it. 

The President gave an impression of wanting to get things 
done from the first day that he came to the White House, 
although he certainly was far from confident He asked the 
staff into his office, and it was a shock after so many years 
of F.DJL, to see the pkce denuded of its ship models, flags, 
trophies, and trinkets. Mr. Truman was pleasant and business 
like, and urged us to do as well for him as we had for Mr. 

"Dear Mr. President . . r 

There was a change, however, in the atmosphere around 
the White House. Mr. Truman's self-styled chief secretary, 
Ed McEom, seemed constantly to be worrying about whether 
the staff was capable of "Tceeping things confidential** some 
thing we had been doing satisfactorily for a good many years. 
McKim brought in a couple of special investigators who had 
worked for the Truman Committee in the Senate and had 
them check on whether the White House office set-up was 
airtight Nothing happened on whatever they may have re 
ported, but McKim moved on to another job after a short 

Before he went, however, I showed him how the mail room 
operated one day, and later he visited the special staff that 
had handled Mrs. Roosevelt's mail. 

"So this is *My Day/ eh?" McKim remarked sardonically, 
in reference to Mrs. Roosevelt's newspaper column. **Well, 
that day is gone." 

He fired the whole staff and abolished the separate office 
that had been sat up to assist Mrs. Roosevelt. It didn't stick, 
however. Mrs. Truman heard about it and went to the Presi 
dent. Part of the staff was hired back and kept on han 
dling Mrs. TrrnnaiTs mail, which ran quite heavy at the 

We appreciated Mrs. Truman's attitude and, in an unusual 
way, we had a chance later to do something for her. She 
came to me one day not long before the President's birthday 
and said that there was nothing that gave Mr. Truman more 
pleasure than opening his own presents. She understood that 
the Secret Service detail had a rule that all packages had to 


"Dear Mr. President . . ? 

be inspected before they were delivered to the President, but 
she wondered whether, in this case, there was some way . . . 
I said I thought we might find some way, but I couldn't 

promise anything. 

There are a number of rules to be observed in handling the 
White House mail, especially packages, as will be explained 
later. In this case we interpreted the regulations loosely. 
Among the gifts arriving were many neckties sent in honor 
of the former haberdasher of Independence, Missouri, We 
put them under the luoroscope and okayed them without 
opening the packages. There were other parcels of which we 
were doubtful, but most of them we were able to open and 
reseal so that they did not appear to have been tampered 
with. We turned over to Mrs. Truman quite a batch of birth 
day presents that appeared to be fresh from the mail track. 
I don't believe the President ever caught on. He tore off the 
wrappers with enthusiasm, and had a big time that day. 

People everywhere seemed to want to send Mr. Truman 
some token of goodwill when he became President. There 
are always many gifts coming to the White House, some of 
them from persons who are trying to advertise some article 
they have for sale and some of them in the category of freak 
gifts. In the case of Mr. Truman I have a list of gifts received 
that provides an interesting catalogue of the peculiar pack 
ages mailed to a President, It follows; 

Kansas City, Mo. 3 sport shirts 

Honolulu, Hawaii Gavel made of teakwood taken from 

the damaged deck of the U.S.S. 



"Dear Mr. President . . /* 

New York, NX 

Philadelphia, Pa. 
Cascapedia, P.Q., Canada 
New Orleans, La. 
Rapid City, S.D. 
Waterford, Erie, Pa. 
Toledo, Ohio 
Portland, Ore. 
St. Louis, Mo. 
Dion, N.Y. 
Hope, Ark. 
Menasha, Wis. 
Sioux City, Iowa 

St. Paul, Minn. 
Lillington, N.C. 
Duluth, Minn. 
Dumbarton Center, NJEL 
Centerville, Term. 

Detroit, Mich. 

San Diego, CaBf. 
Dallas, Tex. 
San Francisco, Calif. 
San Francisco, Calif. 
Long Island City, N.Y. 
Durham, N.C. 
Trinidad, B.W.I. 
Nacona, Tex. 
Kansas City, Kan. 
Pittsburgh, Pa. 
New Hampton, N.Y. 

Miniature good-luck charm of the 
"Surrender Spot" aboard the U.S.S. 

7 pairs of ladies* nylon hose 
41-lb. salmon 

Genuine panama hat 

1 worn white shirt 

Old $5 bfll printed in 1775 

Model of "Jeep Fire Engine*" 

8 Spanish onions 
Pair of satin pajamas 
Baby's diaper 

Watermelon weighing 140 Ibs. 
Fishing tackle 

"Victory Apple" with a natural "V* on 

its skin 
Lawn mower 
Yam weighing 6M Ibs. 
Professional horseshoes 
Metal Weeder 
A small potato that had attached itself 

to an old rusty hinge through natural 

Doll ( 14" tall) made to the likeness of 

President Truman 
Toy airplane 
Walking cane 

Caricature sketch of President Truman 
6 bow ties 

Gold-finished toilet seat 
Basket carved from a peach stone 
Live parrot 
Pair of leather boots 
Rabbit foot 

Hand-knitted American flag 
Miniature plastic piano 


"Dear Mr. President . . .'"' 

Bronxvffle, N.Y. 
New York, N.Y. 
Port Huron, Mich. 
New York, N.Y. 
Brooklyn, N.Y. 

HigHand Park, Mick 
South Bend, Ind. 
Waterloo, Iowa 
Philadelphia, Pa. 
Phoenix, Ariz. 
Centralia, Wash. 
Brooklyn, N.Y. 

St. Petersburg, Fla. 
Tuckahoe, N.Y. 

Lake Geneva, Wis. 
Chicago, 111. 
Washington, D.C. 
Baltimore, Md. 
Kansas City, Mo. 
Los Angeles, Calif. 
Wyoming, 111. 
Kansas City, Mo. 

Kankakee, 111 

Guiuan, Sarnar, P.I. 
Spokane, Wash. 

New York, N.Y. 
Mitchell, S.D. 

Erie, Pa. 

Small toy donkey made of wool 
2 frozen pheasants 
Rag rug 
Nazi flag 

Embroidered picture of President Tru 

Floor lamp 

Pair of miniature boxing gloves 
Live turkey weighing 40 Ibs. 
8 Missouri mule shoes 
Pair of "Antsy Pants'* shorts 
SmaE hand-carved jackass 
Ukulele with instruction book on how 

to play 
Polished "swordfish snout" to be used 

as paper-cutter 
Hand-painted eggshell made in the 

form of a vase 
Box of assorted cheese 
11 comic books 

Ice-cream telegram 
Four-leaf clover 

"Ant Village" (containing live ants) 
Old baby shoe 
Bugle used when President was in 

Battery D, World War I 
Smal model of dog hand carved from 

a cake of soap 
Japanese Army fighting flag 
Rainbow trout weighing 23/s Ibs. "when 


Case of hair tonic 
Corsage and pair of earrings (both 

made from pheasant feathers) 
Cherry pie weighing 44 Ibs. 


"Dear Mr. President . . " 

San Antonio, Tex. Miniature saddle 

Brecksville, Ohio Fly swatter 

Greenwood, Miss. Garbage can 

Kansas City, Kan. Small model of an old-fashioned plow 

Milwaukee, Wis. Hand-made Indian rug 

Kent, OMo Hand-painted Easter egg 

Curwensville, Pa. Two white kittens 

Yaknna, Wash. Knitted woolen "jester's* 7 cap 

Paris, France 2 loaves of French bread 

Aguadflla, P.R. 3 pairs of lady's gloves 

New York, N.Y. Game of chess 

Athens, Greece Cigarettes, olives, and olive oil 

It was quite a while before things began to get back to 
normal under the Tramans. For some reason or other, Grace 
Tully, who had been F.D.R/s personal secretary, was kept 
sitting in idleness around the office for weeks. She finally de 
parted after she had arranged to take along Mr. Roosevelt's 
records for classification and deposit in the archives* 

General Vaughan, the President's military aide, and Com 
modore Vardaman, the naval aide, came up one day with 
the idea that they would handle all the President's contacts 
with veterans, presumably on the theory that there was 
political gold in them Mils. Among other things, they ordered 
that all mail from veterans and servicemen be turned over 
to them instead of being forwarded to the various depart 
ments for answer. 

This gave me the only chuckle I had in several weeks. At 
that time we were getting letters from veterans and service 
men who wanted to know what had happened to their in 
surance, when they would get a bonus, when was their dis- 


"Dear Mr. President . . ." 

charge coming through, where could they get jobs, why 
couldn't they get a house to live in, and where in hell was the 
postwar world they had been told about? The next morning 
I carefully laid out 600 such love notes from soldiers and 
veterans and sent them around to General Vaughan. He took 
one look and asked: 

"How long have these been accumulating?" 

That's just the morning mail/* he was told. 

I must say the General reacted rapidly. Take 'em away/* 
he ordered and that was the end of his handling the veterans* 
mail. Commodore Vardaman heard about Vaughan's ex 
perience and canceled his order for the mail from Navy 
veterans before he even got the first batch. 

On another occasion Vaughan brought around a friend of 
his who was representative of a soft-drink company. He told 
John Boardley, a Negro messenger, that a soft drink vending 
machine was being installed in the office and that Boardley 
was personally to handle it, collect the money, and make 
regular accountings. 

"General,"* Boardley said, TE can't do that IVe got too much 
to do r 

**YouTl do what I tell you/* the General replied. 

Boardley went immediately to the executive clerk and sub 
mitted his formal request for retirement, to which he was 
then entitled. The executive clerk smoothed things over by 
letting Boardley delegate the handling of the soft-drink 
machine to another messenger. 

The only time I ever had any trouble with the Secret 
Service was after Mr. Truman made George Drescher, who 


"Dear Mr. President . . " 

had been his guard when he was Vice-President^ the head of 
the White House detail. George was a joHy big fellow who 
had always been easy to get along with. About this time, how 
ever, I had arranged to remodel a garage in order to use it 
as a receiving room for the mail department, and I had the 
approval of Howard Grim, who was in charge of White House 
buildings. Drescher apparently did not get along with Grim, 
and he vetoed the plan, which had to be approved by the 
Secret Service. I asked him way. 

''Well/'' he said, "there might sometime be riots around 
here and we would want to use that garage as a place in 
which to conceal soldiers.** 

This seemed to me to make very little sense, but we prob 
ably never would have got the idea okayed by the Secret 
Service if George had remained in that job. Before he left, 
however, an amusing little thing happened. 

On one occasion when Mrs. Truman was in Missouri., the 
President sent around word that we were all invited to an 
affair in the East Room. The Broadway comedians Olsen and 
Johnson were the principal stars, and they went through their 
zany stunts with enthusiasm, but failed in their efforts to get 
Mr. Truman to play the piano. It was an uproarious occasion, 
and it was the first time I had been in the East Room since 
we attended the intercession service at which Mr. Roosevelt 
was present. 

As we left, my wife went out first. I noticed Drescher, big 
and broad, standing just outside the door, but nobody else 
seemed to be around to say good-by. I had just said, "Hlyah, 
George," when I saw a hand reach out from behind him to 


"Dear Mr. President . . " 

catch the aim of my wife, who was heading on down the hall. 
She stopped and peered and then blushed. By the time I 
was up even with George, she was shaking hands with Mr. 
Truman. He had been completely concealed behind his 
huge Secret Service man. 

The Tnimans were very folksy, although apparently some 
what uncomfortable, when they first moved into the White 
House. They found that living at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue 
wasn't the same as living at home. Mr. Truman fretted under 
the weight of his new burdens, and it took him quite a while 
to decide he liked being President He kept close track of 
how the mail was running. It was pretty high at first, but he 
was especially interested in whether it ran as high as Mr. 
Roosevelt's average. I always had to say that it didift. 



several persons are exercising their inalienable right to 
sit down and knock off a letter to the President. One of them 
may be an indignant housewife complaining about prices at 
the butcher shop or the quality of teen-age entertainment on 
the radio. Another may be a big businessman expressing his 
views on taxation. Still another may be suggesting that the 
President try Aunt Martha's home remedy for his cold. 

Several thousand persons write to the Chief Executive 
every day on every subject you can think of and a great many 
that you could never imagine. Some are serious thinkers, 
some are busybodies, and some are just crazy, like the man 
who asked for "a list of all the misses in the U.S. so I can 
solve the mystery of who is Miss Hush on the radio.** 

Most of the people who write to the President expect him 
to read and answer their letters, or to perform some small 
favor such as putting them in touch with a soldier in Munich, 
selling a fancy piece of embroidery, addressing the graduat 
ing class at Northside High School, or dropping an atom 
bomb on some foreign capital. Some of them suspect that 


"Dear Mr. President . . " 

their letters might not reach the President, and they include a 
bitter denunciation of nosy secretaries and clerks who ought 
to be put in jail if they open letters addressed to someone else. 
Some of these unusual notations on envelopes addressed to 
the President were: "Mrs. Rosenfelt, kindly give this to your 
husband, thank you." "This letter must not be opened by any 
one but the Pres. Give it to him when he starts home in the 
evening." "Due not open this mail except Mr. Rosevelt." 
And simply, "Your letter openers better look out and not in." 

Well, what does happen to your letter after you address it 
to the President at the White House and drop it in the 

Back in the McKinley administration when I first started 
handling the White House mail the answer would have been 
pretty simple. The postman would bring around a bag of mail, 
maybe a hundred letters, and I would open them and turn 
them over to the President's secretary or send them to one of 
the departments or to a stenographer for answer. Some of 
them I answered myself. 

Today the principle is the same but what a difference in 
operation! Before I retired as Chief of Mails at the White 
House in June of 1948, 1 headed a unit that had ten readers, 
twelve postal clerks, one assistant, one receptionist, two mes 
sengers, and myself to do the job I had once handled alone. 
And in rush times we had as many as seventy persons working 
to keep up with perhaps 150,000 letters, cards, and packages 
a day. 

Mail arrives at the White House receiving room in a special 
sealed truck driven by a post-office employee who does 


"Dear Mr. President . . .* 

nothing but deliver mailbags to the President Your letter is 
buried somewhere in the pile of bags^ but don't worry. It 
won't be lost. 

A corps of clerks permanently detailed by the city post 
office to the White House takes over in tie receiving room. 
They put the letters, which are tied in bundles, under a 
fluoroscope, a metal boxlike contraption about three feet 
by two and three feet high, and look at them through a glass 
window. If there is a dime or a paper clip or any other such 
object in your letter they will see it even if it is in the middle 
of the bundle. 

They won't worry if they see either a dime or a paper clip, 
but if anything shows up that is puzzling or suspicious, the 
bundle is broken open and that letter is removed before the 
others are turned over to clerks in the sorting room. There 
are six sorting boxes where the mail is distributed to pigeon 
holes marked for the President, his wife, and various staff 
members. When a pigeonhole is full, the clerk at that position. 
takes the letters out and stacks them up edgewise along his 
table. There is a ruler on the edge of the table, and he notes 
down how many inches of mail he has sorted for the Presi 
dent. Nobody counts letters to the President these days. They 
are measured by the foot or the yard, which gives the same 
result and saves time. 

The mail for the President's wife goes to her secretaries, 
but the President's mail is stacked in piles on a long table. 
The Chief of Mails at the White House and his assistants go 
through these stacks to pick out the personal mail for the 
Chief Executive. You need a good memory for stationery, 


"Deaf Mr. President . . ." 

postmarks, and tlie Itineraries of the presidential family, and 
you also have to be something of a handwriting expert to 
pick out the letters that go to the President unopened. 

Another thing the Chief of Mails has to do is pick out what 
we called the "important* * ones, which might come from 
anywhere. You soon learn, of course, to recognize the Presi 
dent's regular correspondents, but every mail brings its share 
of letters from political or business or foreign personages, and 
if one is missed or misdirected it might easily create a major 

None of the nine Presidents under "whom I served ever put 
a Tiands off' sign on any correspondence addressed to him, 
except from members of his family or very close friends. After 
years of experience, it was not difficult for me to carry in my 
mind the color of stationery, the writing, the postmark, and 
other peculiarities that enabled me to pick out this personal 
mail. I could still recognize today the distinctive stationery 
used by the Theodore Roosevelt family, or the small silver- 
gray envelope that identified a letter from Mrs. Taft to her 

Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt gave me the most trouble. When 
die was on a trip she seldom stuck to the advance itinerary, 
which we checked on regularly. Not only was it almost impos 
sible to forward mail to her, but she wrote to the President 
from so many unexpected towns and on such odd hotel sta 
tionery that it was only with great difficulty that I could 
recognize her letters without opening them. 

After sorting out the personal and ^important" mail, the 
rest of the correspondence addressed to the President prob- 


~ "Dear Mr. President . . " 

ably including your letteris run through the electric letter- 
opener, gathered in piles, and distributed to the readers, 
starting at about 8:15 A.M. A good reader can get through 
500 or 600 letters a day, particularly if that includes a good 
many propaganda letters, which can be handled quickly. 

The reader sees plenty of strange addresses on the letters 
that come to the White House. Many persons draw elaborate 
pictures or portraits of the President, or work out trick designs 
in the hope of attracting his attention. As has been noted, a 
typical stunt with T.R. was to draw a big stick on the en 
velope, with no other address, and with F.D.R. a picture of a 
rose was sometimes used in combination with the letters 
*V-e-l-t." But many of the addresses display the surprising 
ignorance and sometimes the political sentiments of the 

All such letters are acknowledged, but presuming your 
letter is a sensible one, it would get special attention, depend 
ing on the subject matter. Each reader must have a thorough 
knowledge of all the government departments and agencies 
and their duties, During the height of the New Deal alpha 
betical-agency period, that meant knowing plenty usually 
more than anybody else in Washington knew or could puzzle 

The reader has to decide at once what agency or depart 
ment should handle each letter, and to be able to write the 
name or initials of that agency on the corner of the letter. 
Sounds simple, but it means knowing the names and duties of 
such agencies as FERA, HOLC, IEFC, CAA, ODT, NBA, 
WAA and ACPSAHMWA. You try to figure them out, and 


"Dear Mr. President . . 

remember that there were scores of them, and they were 
changing every other week If you're curious, that last one 
was the American Commission for the Protection and Salvage 
of Artistic and Historic Monuments in War Areas. 

On letter the reader adds his own number (every 

reader is numbered ) and then, on a prepared form, puts the 
name and address of the writer and a brief note of what the 
letter said and where it was sent This is attached to the letter 
and to the filing room, where the prepared form is re 
moved and lied and the letter is sent along to the correct 

Hie system of putting agency or department initials on 
letters once resulted in an amusing incident A reader wrote 
AGR (for Agriculture) on a letter from a Midwestern farmer, 
and by mistake the letter was returned to the writer when it 
was answered. He saw the initials and, perhaps because there 
were a lot of peculiar questions asked in New Deal days, lie 
got the Idea that the letters were AGE and that we wanted to 
know how old he was* He wrote Mr, Roosevelt a letter saying 
that lie didn't think it was any of our damn business, but if 
we must know he was sixty-two, and hale and hearty. 

If your letter is to be handled or acknowledged by the 
White House staff, it is sent to the proper secretary or to the 
chief stenographer, perhaps after a memorandum lias been 
filed regarding its contents. The important letters from Con 
gressmen, businessmen, or perhaps friends of the President 
are opened by the Chief of Mails and his assistant and dis 
posed of in tie same manner, except that more of them find 
their way to the President or the secretaries. 


"Dear Mr. President . . /' 

So you can see that when you sit down to write to the 
President you're getting yourself involved in a lot of ma 
chinery, and the chances of the President's seeing your letter 
are about the same as a long shot in the daily double at 

Nevertheless, the President does see a good many letters, 
and the summaries and other data that are supplied Mm make 
it possible for him to keep a close tab on public opinion and 
on the problems that are uppermost in the minds of ordinary 
people. In looking through my notes and records I am re 
minded that not all the "ordinary people" are Americans; that 
for many years the President received frequent letters from 
little people in other countries. One of them, a letter written 
in Tokyo on January 14, 1936, is a part of my records and it 
seems such a strange missive now after the war that it may 
be worth including. 

Your Excellency 

Mr. President and Mrs. Franklin D. Roosevelt 

Since your Inauguration of presidency your candid policies 
proved much worth and improvement of general conditions can 
be seen to us a plain cityzen of Far East We are highly respect- 
ingly congratulate you. 

The world, all over quite uneasy trouble after trouble here and 
there. Unsteadieness, topling state only can be relzxed and let 
steady to safety through sincere, sympathetic understandings of 
each others situation, position. We are so believing. 

1936 the year of election in your country. Political world be 
comes so active and bright. For the same policy and practiiioa in 
America means not only for the countrys stability and steadfast 
ness but also for the world at large. Each word actions movement 
of your Excellency directly reflect so nervously England rather 


"Dear Mr. President . . /* 

British Britain somewhat losing her former power while America 
gained whether she wish or not The world affairs always some 
how mingled because of her natinal power and being strong. 

As a nation we think America is the best located and well 
provided by nature. Yet she must have her own natinal troubles, 
worries, problems, as any other powers. Especially at the present 
time. Your Excellency you need health, vigor and energy to stand 
for the heaviest responsibility ever fall upon a man. 

We have red a book of biographies related chiefly upon Ameri 
can presidents. We were deeply toubhed, moved and we thought 
we could something for the president to relief his ever working 
brains and body. Let to be leisured whenever the chance to be. 
Our this Japanized engBsh letter may interest your excellency's 
tired brain for change. 

We also wish to present you a pure white woolen sweater to be 
wear when you have the opportunity for open air vacation, to 
comfort your body to please you. This sweater is designed and 
styled by me. Hand knited by my wife. We worked for completion 
together. Each day we took clean hot bath before our start and 
prayed as our own religious manner. Woolen yarn we chased 
English bee hive jumper 3 ply yars about the best obtainably in 
Japan. The measurement we were thought by our teacher. We 
hope our sincere devotion can be expressed within this sweater 
and will It your excellency perfectly, smartly and suit IB your 

We are sending this sweater to be honorably presented as a 
cityzen of Japan. A nameless plain business shop keeper is so 
vigorously and sincerely wishing an international good will and 
closer relation betterment of the either side of pacific countries 
even lasting co-existing and mutual progressions, prosperity, 
happiness and eventually the worlds' perfect peace and well 

We remain we are 

Yours most respectedly 
EL M. I . 
Ayako I . 


"Dear Mr. President . . " 

P.S. Please be kind enough to excuse us if using this plain paper 
and we wish your excellency to try understand this comical 
letter, the sort only you can receive, there are many errors 
mistakes but please help us to percive the bond of meaning 
We are much obliged and pray 

The touching letter from the Japanese and his wife was 
followed some months later by notification that the sweater 
had been completed and dispatched, but for the life of me I 
cannot recall whether it ever reached the President 

So many gifts did arrive, especially at Christmas time* that 
they became a sort of blur in my mind except for a few out 
standing items. I find in my records the following notation 
made on December 20, 1934: 


The regular routine letter mail continues at about 3800. 

Christmas cards for the President and Mrs. Roosevelt are 
arriving in great numbers and will continue to increase until after 
the holiday. Today we handled about 2000. 

Gifts for the President and Mrs. Roosevelt and other members 
of the family keep several clerks busy and will increase the work 
through Tuesday. The range extends from small, inexpensive, 
homemade gifts from obscure admirers to the more pretentious 
ones from personal friends. Fruit, a whole deer, ducks, pheasants, 
quail, nuts, jams, jellies, wines, and fish, as well as nine turkeys 
(one came express collect), canes, dolls, wood carvings, fancy 
sewing in the shape of quilts, pillowcases, handkerchiefs, etc. 
Picture frames, paintings, ship models, and old prints have been 

A great many of the personal gifts come in care of Mrs. 
Roosevelt and are inspected and handled at the House. 

In trying to give an idea of the volume and variety of work 
done in the White House mail room, especially during the last 


"Dear Mr. President ..." 

decade or so, I find that statistics are not really adequate. It 

seems to me that it might be* more understandable and inter 
esting if I made it possible for the reader to see the work done 
by one clerk in one day during the period of World War II, 
when mail volume was high. The following list is a record of 
letters handled by only one clerk in only one working day. 
The contents of the letters are indicated in the listing. 

A request for deferment; a request for a job; 36 petitions against 
liquor and vice conditions around army camps; 4 letters urging 
freedom for Earl Browder; 1 letter opposing freedom for Browder; 
42 more letters against liquor and vice around camps; a protest 
against inefficiency in government departments where clerks sit 
around idle and cause comment by men in uniform; a protest 
against drafting boys under nineteen; 11 invitations to high-school 
'Commencements; 6 clippings without names; an offer from a 
national organization to rally motorists back of the President's war 
leadership; 9 suspicious or crank letters sent to the Secret Service; 
a farmer's request for deferment; a proposal that Henry Wallace 
broadcast once a week; a poem; 2 letters asking release from the 
Army; an army private asks foreign service; a plan to speed the 
sale of defense bonds; praise for the FEPC; a plea to erase a man's 
prison record; thanks for a hospital grant; request from a Negro 
organization to interview the President; an inquiry re March of 
Dimes; a request for a birth certificate; a request for $1000 to 
finance an invention for national defense; a request for a patent; 
an idea for a motor to replace the gasoline motor; a man who 
caught two safe-crackers thinks he ought to have a reward; 
4 letters re old age pensions; 61 petitions and 181 letters regarding 
morals and national defense; three suggestions of names for the 
Second World War; a prayer for peace; a protest against cigarette 
smoking; a letter re training of radio technicians; a request for 
the President's picture; a plan for price control; a plea for the re 
lease of a husband held by the F.B.I.; a study of Negro achieve 
ments in the Chicago public schools; 11 letters seeking defer- 


"Dear Mr. President . . ?* 

ments; a protest against widening a Washington street; a protest 
against gasoline rationing; a letter on the CIO; a protest against 
the excess-profits tax; 3 letters on racial discrimination; a request 
from a mother for permission for her fifteen-year-old daughter to 
take a job; a suggestion that 10 per cent of all salaries be invested 
in defense bonds; 2 requests to employ those over sixty in defense 
jobs; a plea to ban the sale of rubber tires to brewers; a suggestion 
that the Secretary of State be fired; a request for a presidential 
greeting at the dedication of a church; a request for an auto 
graphed photograph; an endorsement of a friend for work with 
the WPB; 2 offers of services in war work; a suggestion for special 
education of the people on government subjects; 2 letters saying to 
be sure and retaliate if the Japs use poison gas; a request for 
financial aid to develop a mine; 2 requests for less sugar ration- 
Ing; an offer to give the Government a formula for an effective 
poison; an offer of an invention that seems to be a torpedo net; 
3 letters from women seeking release of their husbands from the 
Army; an argument on the allotment of cotton acreage; a protest 
against the mobilization bill; a proposal to ban the use of copper 
except for defense; a plea to extend REA lines to farm property; 
a complaint that the Columbus, Ohio, general depot fails to deliver 
checks promptly; a demand for a second front; a letter on sub 
versive activities; a request to help locate a husband; 4 requests 
for defense work; a request for automobile tires; a request for a 
patent on wooden car wheels; a proposal for an international con 
ference; a protest against paying union dues; a request for in 
formation about a son in the Army; a proposal for a Congressional 
bfll legalizing the marriage of white and colored persons; a plan 
for an airplane motor that does not use gasoline; a plan to speed 
delivery of lumber to defense projects; a plan for raising the 
morale of high-school boys, who are the "future soldiers**; a pro 
test than men in army uniform are too attentive to a certain girl; 
a request that the Army draft a husband; 5 letters on price-fixing; 
6 letters on gas rationing; 2 more poems; 3 more suggestions of 
names for the Second World War; a letter telling about troubles 
with the neighbors; a letter filled with political advice; a gift of 


"Dear Mr. President . . ." 

toy rubber boots; a complaint about labor unions; a request for a 
post-office job; a proposal to sell a truck to the Government; a 
simple remedy for malaria; a request for money to pay for a wife's 
operation; an offer of an instrument for locating oil; 2 girls want 
to serve in the Army; 2 others want war work; a proposal that the 
Air Force bomb Japanese volcanoes; a request for a birth, cer 
tificate; a letter of admiration for the President; a check ($23.30) 
for defense sent by school children; a pledge by a worker of 
10 per cent of his wages for defense; a book of stamps ($18) for 
defense; 6 more suggestions of names for the Second World War; 
a proposal to seize Martinique and the Free French islands; an 
invalid asks financial backing for an original song; a proposal to 
ban the sale of fireworks; an offer of a girl's blond hair for precision 
instruments; an offer to sell a steel engraving of Lincoln; an out 
line of terms for a peace treaty with Japan; a patriotic poem; a 
schoolgirl's letter on what the U.S. means to her; a boys* club 
invites the President to be their honorary president; information as 
to a draft-dodger; a one-legged man wants a job or relief; an offer 
of an automobile headlight reflector to the Government; a charge 
that a husband fails to support his wife; a protest against the 
Eastern-seaboard blackout; 5 letters from Congressmen enclosing 
letters from constituents; a letter from G* Pinchot re lifeboat 
equipment; a suggestion about how to make liquor; a proposal to 
use the metal in post-office doors for defense; a request for money 
to launch a garden weeder; a sarcastic letter regarding the Presi 
dent's last speech; a letter to the President's dog; 5 patriotic songs; 
covers for a stamp collection; one more name for the Second 
World War. 

This may seem like a long list for one man to get through 
in a day, but actually I have abbreviated it somewhat, since 
the clerk on that day handled a large number of organized- 
pressure letters that were all the same and didn't require 
careful reading. But to get an idea of the work the mail room 
did in these days, the list above would have to be vastly in- 


"Dear Mr. President . * .* 

creased. The following tables, for instance, show the steady 
increase in mail over a period of three years, with January 
used as the sample month: 

















































































































"Dear Mr. President 




















































































































"Dear Mr. President . . ." 























































































































But the letters are just part o it. People also send packages 
to the President, and they are even more work. Later I will 


"Dear Mr. President . . .** 

tell you just tow they are treated. A lot of strange things 
came out of packages sent to the White House in the last 

fifty years; everything from gold teeth sent in by persons who 
heard it was illegal to hoard gold to the gold-plated toilet seat 
sent to Mr. Truman. When gold currency and coins were 
withdrawn from circulation, we received some $468,000 
worth of gold articles from persons who misunderstood the 
Treasury order and believed that all gold articles had to be 
turned in to the Government. During World War II, many 
persons sent in contributions of money or gold articles to be 
sold for defense, ranging from $1 to buy bullets for use on the 
Japs to checks for $50,000 contributed by workers in a fac 
tory. All such contributions were sent to the Treasury. 

Such gifts present many difficult problems. All of them are 
acknowledged, but few of them are anything that the Chief 
Executive would want or could use. Or if the gift is expensive, 
it may be refused because the President would find it unwise 
to accept anything that might put him under an obligation 
to the sender. All others, however, are kept for at least six 
months, no matter how useless or how horrible they may be. 
That rule was made after Margaret Le Hand, the personal 
secretary to F.D.R., received a package containing a statuette 
sent to the President. She found it so repulsive that she im 
mediately shattered it. The sculptor later wrote in about it 
and we were involved in a six-months correspondence trying 
to explain why we couldn't either return it or pay him $200 
for it. He finally got tired of asking. 

The large number of gifts sent to F.D.R. resulted in the 
building a basement storeroom to hold the overflow of pres- 


"Dear Mr. President . . " 

ents some valuable and some merely horrible pieces of junk 
This room was unofficially called "the Chamber of Horrors" 
because, as one newspaper reporter said, of the ^gro- 
tesqueness of many of the goodwill gifts" received by the 

The reporter, J. Russell Young of the Washington Star, 
added that the President never used the term, but he had 
long since become aware of what was meant when he turned 
a gift over to a subordinate and the latter bowed out saying, 
*I will put it in the chamber of horrors, sir." 

Young, a veteran White House correspondent, an amateur 
artist, and later a District of Columbia Commissioner, wrote 
a gentle and undsrstanding article about the gifts that were 
sent to the Roosevelts, pointing out the desire of the givers to 
do something for the President and the First Lady, but also 
bringing out the problem that was created for them. The story 
said in part: 

Mr. and Mrs. Roosevelt, like most of their predecessors in the 
executive mansion, have followed a strict policy of returning all 
presents of any real intrinsic value. But, also like the prior oc 
cupants, Mr. and Mrs. Roosevelt have been happy to accept the 
many little and inexpensive remembrances and tokens of apprecia 
tion tendered them. They both make it a strict rule to acknowledge 
personally all gifts they feel they can keep. 

That, in itself, is something of a task when it is remembered the 
Chief Executive has many more pressing demands on his time. 
But, the real task is to find a place to put these gifts that are re 

The White House is a commodious place in so far as homes go, 
but there is a limit to everything. The room originally assigned as 
the resting place for miscellaneous gifts during the early days of 


"Dear Mr. President . ? 

the Roosevelt administration lias long since been found in 
adequate. Another room in the White House is now catching the 

In the President's old home at Hyde Park, N. Y., where he 
spends many week ends during the year, there also is a "chamber 
of horrors." The same is true of the President's little white cottage 
at, the foot of Pine Mountain at Warm Springs, Ga. . . . 

It is almost unbelievable what people really send to the Presi 
dent and Mrs. Roosevelt. There is no mistaking the fact that some 
of the articles have required great skill and deft fingers and many 
months of labor to execute. Most of the presents might well come 
under the classification of "junk/* even though they are not treated 
as such in the presidential household. 

To enumerate the many kinds of gifts would be like quoting 
from the pages of a mail-order house catalogue. In the matter of 
numbers, handmade neckties head the list. They come in all colors 
and styles, some embroidered and some knitted, many of them 
with the President's initials, some of them displaying a prominent 
TET and some few of them bearing the President's likeness or what 
the sender intended as a likeness. 

All sorts of wearing apparel are included in the list, socks and 
handkerchiefs being the most common. Then there are the many 
penknives, wood-carvings, wrought-iron work, water-color paint 
ings and oil paintings, pictures in pastel or crayon, more frequently 
in pen and ink. As might be expected, most of these works of art 
are intended to be a likeness of the President There are the 
fountain pens, pencils, stickpins, cufi links and shirt studs. 

Following publication of a story a year or so ago about the 
President appearing at a banquet in evening clothes and wearing 
dark shirt studs intended for wear only on informal occasions, he 
was swamped soon afterward with white studs. This no doubt was 
due to the fact the President laughingly remarked when com 
menting on his improper attire, that he could not find his white 
shirt studs when he was getting dressed for the banquet. "I guess 
one of my sons helped himself beforehand,** the President ex 


"Dear Mr. President . . " 

Peculiarly enough, the gifts are more or less of a seasonal nature. 
As is generally known, Mr. Roosevelt is susceptible to head colds. 
Each time stories are printed about him being indisposed the 
White House is flooded with presents from well-wishing friends 
in the form of handmade chest protectors, sweaters, wrist warmers, 
woolen socks and earmuffs, to say nothing of all sorts of home 
made remedies for coughs and colds. 

In the Summer the President receives a variety of homemade 
fans. Around Christmas there are many presents of homemade 
candy, fruits, cake, plum pudding and other delicacies identified 
with the season. 

In the Autumn and Winter come the apples, pears, nuts, smoked 
hams and game birds, in addition to the customary number of 
turkeys received at Thanksgiving and Christmas time. There also 
are venison and bear meat, wild duck, pheasants and partridges, 
sent by proud hunters from various parts of the country. Tien 
there are the various cakes and pies the largest cherry pie in the 
world came by airplane from die Michigan cherry festival last 
Summer. Crates of oranges and grapefruit in great numbers are 
received. Some of these are prize winners in the citrus States. In 
addition, there are received quantities of fish, oysters, crabs and 

Ever since Mr. Roosevelt has been in office he has been the 
recipient each year of the first salmon caught in Maine waters. 
The best of the first seasonal tonging in Chesapeake Bay also are 
added to the White House larder. 

The eatables, of course, are not sent to the "chamber of horrors." 
The articles which go to the President's table are carefully in 
spected and are either put in the White House larder for eventual 
use on the presidential table or sent to one of the local hospitals. 
But the handicraft and some of it really is remarkable in its orig 
inality and execution finds its way to the "chamber of horrors.** 

Some of these articles are on display in what is known as the 
"trophy room** on the basement floor of the White House, to be 
viewed by the daily visitors and sightseers. Most of the articles, 
however, are too crude to be put on display or be used by the 


Mr. President . . .** 

President or Mrs. Roosevelt Therefore, generally after the Presi 
dent has examined them and made a notation of the name and 
address of the sender, they are relegated to the well-known 

Just how often the "chamber of horrors'* is emptied and what 
eventually becomes of the gifts, only one or two persons know 
and they are not revealing the fact. More than likely the President 
himself does not know. Certainly, the gifts are of no value either 
intrinsically or sentimentally. Very few of them have any real 

The fact is known that there is a "chamber of horrors* 5 ; that it 
comprises more than one room; that only a few people know 
exactly where it is, or how it operates. But it holds and then gets 
rid ofthe White House junk. 

Gifts from abroad, normally, are accepted only if they 
come from foreign governments and can be made part of the 
permanent White House furnishings rather than the personal 
property of the President. 

Each President is able to exercise considerable discretion 
regarding gifts, and there has been a good deal of variation. 
President McEonley was careful about accepting anything 
more than a crate of oranges or a box of cigars. Theodore 
Roosevelt received many odd gifts, especially canes in the 
shape of the <e big stick" that he made famous, and Ms daugh 
ter Alice received a trainload of gifts when she was married. 
The Taf ts accepted hundreds of silver gifts on their twenty- 
fifth wedding anniversary, as has been noted. Woodrow Wil 
son and Herbert Hoover were not interested, and did not 
want even the most inexpensive gifts, but Calvin Coolidge 
kept a close record of all presents, and took many of them 
home to Vermont when he left the White House. 


"Dear Mr. President . . ? 

F.D.R. received a tremendous assortment of gifts, with 
canes (because lie was crippled) probably the leading item. 
He took an interest in odd gifts, little carvings, ship models, 
and trinkets, and littered the place with those that happened 
to strike his fancy. 

Gifts coming in through the customs always cause a lot of 
trouble, but I believe it was most acute during the time of 
F.D.R. A typical example was a man in Panama who wrote 
to the President expressing his admiration, and saying that 
he had made a special deep-sea fishing rod and an exquisite 
reel, which he was sending as a gift. Miss Le Hand replied 
telling him that Mr. Roosevelt was very appreciative and 
was looking forward to using the equipment. A couple of 
weeks later the Collector of Customs notified me that he had 
a rod and a reel for the President. They had been appraised, 
he said, and the duty of approximately 50 per cent came to 
the neat sum of $480. Would the President, the Collector 
added, please send over the cash and he would send over the 
fishing equipment, which was handsome indeed. No cash, no 
rod or reel. I told Miss Le Hand and her mouth popped 

"Oh, myF she said. TE thought Panama was part of the 
United States. I didn't know there'd be any duty. 3 * 

Neither one of us had any intention of asking the President 
to fork over the money, since he already had a tracHoad of 
fishing equipment. Miss Le Hand got together with the State 
Department experts on what to do and finally cooked tip a 
letter to the kindhearted Panamanian. The President, she 
said, was not permitted to accept such valuable gifts, and 


Mr. President . . " 

therefore the State Department was forced to return the rod 
and reel. But, she added, Mr. Roosevelt was planning to make 
a voyage that would take him to Panama, and he hoped that 
the man would come aboard his ship and demonstrate the 
qualities of the equipment He did make such a trip later and 
was primed to welcome the man, but he didn't show up. 

After that, al letters regarding gifts from foreign countries 
were routed to me, and we investigated the question of duty 
and, when necessary, had the State Department send the 
gifts back with a diplomatic letter of explanation. 

Winston Churchill crossed us up, however, when he 
returned the film of the motion picture Woodrow Wilson, 
which FJD.R had lent him. It had been supposed that 
Churchill would send the film back in the British Embassy 
diplomatic pouch, which would not be subject to customs 
inspection, but he put it aboard a Cunard liner and there 
was no way to avoid the customs. I had to swear that they 
were for government use in order to secure them and give 
them back to the film company that had sent them to the 
White House in the first place. 

President Truman received notice from the Customs Office 
at one time that a gift valued at $1000 had arrived for him. 
We checked up and found that it was a portrait of Mr. Tru 
man that had been painted by the Latin American who sent 
it. It was either an esoteric masterpiece that I was unable to 
appreciate, or it was a rotten painting, and we so advised the 
President. He expressed a high degree of disinterest, and the 
State Department advised the sender that it was being re 
turned because it was not proper for the President to accept 


"Dear Mr. President . . ? 

such valuable gifts. They got a telegram back promptly 
saying not to send it back but please to sell it to some 

Mr. Truman always got a kick out of seeing presents or 
cards from his old friends. On one of his birthdays we were 
instructed to send all of the greeting cards to him. He evi 
dently enjoyed seeing them, but we puzzled for weeks trying 
to acknowledge many of them with no other clew than a 
scrawled signature such as "Harry" or Tour pal Hank" or 
"Old Pete." 

Once when the President made an offhand remark at a 
press conference about his own difficulties in getting white 
shirts during the war, he was inundated with a flood of white 
shirts in the next mail. Later, without saying anything, he 
received a lot of livestock from farmers who wanted to protest 
against the cost and the scarcity of feed. An Iowa fanner 
sent him a live hog that weighed 700 pounds. The $69 
express charges were prepaid, and the animal was accom 
panied by a respectful letter saying the farmer couldn't sell 
the hog at a profit under current conditions May, 1948 
and was giving it to Mr. Truman. The President didn't have 
any place for a live hog, but the Bureau of Animal Industry 
agreed to take it Their truck driver was happy when I told 
him the hog could be picked up at the Railway Express. 

"Mr. Smith," he said, "I had visions of us chasing that hog 
all over the White House lawn." 

"No," I told him, "that didn't bother me as much as the 
fact that we couldn't use him because he has no civil-service 


"Dear Mr. President . . /* 

A few days later Mr. Truman got another tog with another 
protest against the high price of feed. 

During the Truman drive to save grain for Europe, a num 
ber of chicken fanners sent crates of live chickens to the 
White House as a protest against chickenless Thursdays. The 
letters accompanying them insisted, with tongue in cheek, 
that they were merely gifts to the President, but the real 
purpose was obvious. We finally had to get the express com 
pany to head them off at the express depot and deliver them 
to the Walter Reed Hospital 

The majority of gifts to the President are food of one kind 
or another. If a package of food was expected or came from 
someone well known as when J* P. Morgan sometimes sent 
ducks to the White House then we would inspect the pack 
age to see that there was no tampering, and sent it over to 
the kitchen. But otherwise we would send it directly to the 
Food and Drugs Administration laboratory to be tested 
chemically or on guinea pigs and monkeys. Most of the food 
was thrown away before the New Deal days, because there 
was no system then for testing it, and much of it arrived in 
poor condition. 

The end of Prohibition brought one wave of gifts that I 
well remember. All the manufacturers were eager to get their 
products publicized, and we were buried under five-gallon 
cans of pretzels and bottles of legal beer. Three times a day 
the express trucks would bring a new load, and I was soon 
giving pretzels to anybody who would take them. The beer, 
for the most part, went over to the White House, but Mr. 
Roosevelt merely admired the freak bottles some of them 


"Dear Mr. President . . ." 

holding ten gallons and declined to drink any. He had been 
drinking a home brew that* was stirred up by Henry Nesbit, 
the steward, and he kept right on drinking it after Repeal 
Said he liked it better. 

The Presidents, with the possible exception of Mr. Wilson 
and Mr. Taf t, have always been interested in the trend of the 
mail in so far as it indicates the swing of public opinion. In 
the early part of the century, when perhaps fewer than a 
hundred letters a day were received, people were not very 
well informed on the big issues before Congress. The news 
papers carried less Washington news, there was no radio to 
spread word of what was happening in Congress, and only 
the most important problems were debated generally. The 
mail was slow, too. If you lived a long distance from the 
capital, it would take eight or nine days to get a letter to the 
President. By that time the problem at issue might already be 
settled or might have faded out. We probably got more tele 
grams than letters on an important occasion then, because 
they could be delivered quickly. 

Very gradually, the whole situation began to change, and 
there was a great speed-up during World War I. The country 
now knows through newspapers and radio the details of gov 
ernmental affairs, and with the aid of airmail the people let 
the President know what they think within a few hours. 
Much of this mail, of course, is the product of organized 

The first such pressure mail that I saw came from church 
organizations during the McKinley administration, and was 
concerned largely with keeping us out of war with Spain. It 


"Dear Mr. President . . .** 

was customary then for religious groups to distribute leaflets 
in the pews of churches, suggesting that members of the 
congregation write to the President and giving an example 
of a letter that expressed the viewpoint of the group. We 
would get the first wave of letters from New York and New 
England, perhaps, but a week later we would be getting 
similar letters from the South and the Midwest, and then 
another wave from farther west, and probably it would con 
tinue for a month or two. I would soon be able to recognize 
such letters at a glance and would not bother the President 
or his secretaries with them, although they were kept in 
formed of the number of letters received on each important 

In the Theodore Roosevelt administration, a coal strike 
brought a new twist in pressure. A number of newspapers 
printed coupons calling upon the President to force a settle 
ment of the strike there was then great need for reform in 
the industry and for the setting-up of safety standards and 
readers were urged to send these coupons to the White 
House. They did at the rate of about 2000 a day. This deluge 
kept up for weeks, but after a short time I could tel by just 
feeling the envelope whether it was a coupon. Except for 
advising T.R. of the number received, I merely opened them 
and filed them away. 

During the Taft and Wilson administrations, there was a 
stready growth in organized-pressure mail dealing with Pro 
hibition and the events leading up to World War L Organ 
ized labor, too, began bombarding the White House with 
letters, and in recent years labor probably has contributed 


"Dear Mr. President . . ? 

more mail of this character than any other Hoc. In June of 
1947, the organized-pressure letters on the Taf t-Hartley bill 
set a record, averaging about 18,000 a day. On June 12, for in 
stance, we received over all 13,190 letters, 47,300 post cards, 
and 905 other items in the mail This included 40,900 post 
cards demanding the veto of the labor bill. 

That month of June was particularly heavy as far as 
pressure nofiail in general was concerned. A few statistics indi 
cate what we had to deal with. On June 17 we received 
3800 post cards on the Palestine question, 400 on lynchings, 
4500 on Public Law No. 27 (barring foreign-born war-service 
seamen from American ships), and 10,900 calling upon the 
President to veto the Taf t-Hartley bill 

Almost all of these were printed or mimeographed form 
cards that were distributed by various organizations to indi 
viduals who signed and posted them. The record of letters, 
cards, and other mail received for June was swollen as a 
result of these organized campaigns to the totals shown in 
the table on the following page. 

I have never felt that such inspired mail amounted to 
much, but the Presidents have usually taken a different view 
point. Some of them have been inclined to think that the 
dupes who write in on instructions represent the voice of the 
people, and all of them have wanted regular reports on such 

In 1948 there were fifteen different subjects under which 
records of pressure mail were filed. These ranged from civil 
rights to Prohibition to war with Russia. Letters and post 
cards of this type usually arrive in large batches. One delivery 

"Dear Mr. President 





















































































Mr. President . * ? 

might bring 3000 letters on the same subject from, say, Chi 
cago. Because they have all been written at the suggestion 
of a single organization and say about the same thing, they 
follow the same post-office channel, and are usually delivered 
in bundles containing about 300 each. 

These are easily recognized by the experienced clerk, who 
reads the newspapers carefully and is probably expecting 
them anyway. They are thrown aside until the other mail is 
handled. Eventually, each letter is opened and a regular 
report is made on the number received and on the contents, 
in a general way. They are sent to whatever department is 
particularly interested in the subject, but a complete file of 
the names of the writers is cross-indexed in the White House 
offices a practice started by Mr. Hoover and denounced by 
me ever since to anyone who would listen. 

The whole problem of handling the White House mail has 
changed tremendously in the last twenty years, owing pri 
marily to the huge increase in letters of every kind during the 
New Deal period. Prior to the arrival of F.D.K at the White 
House, I had handled the entire mail by myself, except for 
some routine assistance in emergencies. This meant working 
holidays, Sundays, and until midnight on many occasions, 
particularly when a change in administration might bring 
10,000 unop 3ned letters in one week 

The inauguration of Mr. Roosevelt in the midst of the 
depression seemed to touch off the letter-writing instinct in 
most Americans. Or perhaps they had more time on their 
hands, and certainly they were worried. As already noted, 
when the President told them to write to him about their 


"Dear Mr. President . . /* 

troubles they took him at his word by the hundreds of 

"Dear Mr. President, I am worried about how we are 
going to . . r 

"Dear Mr. Roosevelt, The children have no shoes to wear 
to school . . ." 

"Dear Frank, IVe been driving a hack for ten years but 
now . . r 

"Dear Sir, Your detestable attempts to destroy our sys 
tem of . . ." 

They were all worried in one way or another, those who 
were down to their last yacht as well as those who saw the 
kids go to school with no breakfast, and they seemed to feel 
that they must let Mr. Roosevelt know their hopes and fears. 
They came in so fast we couldn't count them, but within a 
week I had some 450 3 000 unopened letters stacked all over 
the office. 

I spent my entire time from 7:30 A.M. to midnight every 
day merely going through the stacks of letters and picking out 
those that seemed to be important. I put a couple of desks 
in a basement room that had a dirt floor and ran temporary 
lights into it, so I could get away from the office and work 
without interruption. 

Finally, I took my problem to Rudolph Forster, the execu 
tive clerk, and he brought in the President's secretary, Louis 
Howe. I told them that unless they just wanted to burn the 
letters or throw them away we would have to have help. One 
man and one woman were brought in from other depart- 


"Dear Mr. President . . /* 

ments, but we soon decided that we would need a force of 
about fifty persons for a while. 

That was not easy, when you remembered that capable 
persons would be needed, and the departments were reluc 
tant to let good clerks go. The Civil Service Commission was 
unable to provide the class of clerks needed. Forster finally 
decided we could get help from outside the government 
service, and have them sworn in as employees of temporary 
agencies and detailed to the White House. There were plenty 
of capable persons out of work, or running elevators, in those 
days, and through my acquaintances I soon had hired twenty 
outside the classified service. They were happy to give up 
such jobs as they had and come to the White House* Then I 
heard from Forster again. He said in view of the President's 
position toward civil service he was afraid our action might 
arouse criticism, and that we should again try to get clerks 
through regular channels. 

I blew my top. I told him these people had given up their 
jobs, and that I had given my word they would be employed. 
If I couldn't keep my promise, I said, I wanted him to get 
somebody else in my place. 

"Now, Ira, 7 * he said, "don't be precipitate. If youVe hired 
them, it will have to go through/* 

When it was all approved, I had the clerks, but nowhere 
to put them. We began expanding into the halls and other 
odd spaces, tut still there wasn't room. It was decided to take 
over some space in the State Department Building across the 
street, and Colonel Edmund Starling of the Secret Service 
and I went over to discuss the problem. We didn't get very 


"Dear Mr. President . . ." 

far, being tomed away with the State Department's cus 
tomarily diplomatic version of the run-around. We had to ask 
Mr. Koosevelt to direct that the rooms be commandeered, 
which he did. 

That was just the beginning of our migrations, however. 
When the President decided to rebuild the excutive offices, 
we moved everybody over to the State Department rooms 
except myself and my assistant We moved our desks and 
tables into the lower corridor at the east end of the White 
House, and worked there until the rebuilding was completed. 
Then we moved everybody back into the offices, and stayed 
there until President Truman ordered more rebuilding of the 
offices in 1946. Our entire staff was moved to some temporary 
army barracks behind the State Department, but no sooner 
had the move been made than Congress decided that the 
proposed rebuilding would mar die beauty of the White 
House, and withdrew the appropriation. 

Our office, however, never did get back to the executive 
wing. We finally fought another battle with the State Depart 
ment, which was as obstructionist and as supercilious as ever, 
in order to get suitable offices, and in June of 1947 we moved 
into the offices the Mail Department now occupies in the old 
State Department Building. 

As usual we had to make a lot of special preparations there 
to handle the crank mail and to maintain the system for 
protection of the President from anyone who might decide 
to send him a package of high explosives through the mail. I 
want to tell about how that is done and about some of the 
queer ones we handled at the White House. 




1 must constantly face a limited risk of bodily harm at the 
hands of some crank or fanatic. But, as almost no one stops to 
think, the men and women around the President, and espe 
cially the Secret Service detail, must accept more or less the 
same risk, because they are just as vulnerable as he is to a 
bullet or a packaged bomb intended for the Chief Executive. 
I don't believe anyone around the White House has ever 
spent much time worrying about his own danger, and espe 
cially I don*t believe any President has ever given it more 
than passing consideration. On the contrary, most Presidents 
have been scornful of the precautions taken by the Secret 
Service and it has been difficult for some Chief Executives 
and their families to understand quickly the necessity for 
such precautions. 

This is often quite understandable. I remember, for in 
stance, that Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt was a bit slow to agree 
that it was necessary to continue our method of handling 
packages and gifts sent to the President. When I first went to 
her to discuss the mail problem soon after the arrival of the 

Mr. President . . ? 

Roosevelts in Washington* she was surprised that it would 

be necessary to examine all packages before they were 
delivered to the family. I pointed out to her the dangers in 
volved in delivering uninspected packages to the head of a 
state, because some enemy might take advantage of such 
laxity to harm Mm. 

**Oh yes," Mrs. Roosevelt said with a smile, "but everybody 
loves Franklin!" 

ln that case/' I replied, "it is difficult to understand whom 
Zangara was shooting at down in Florida last January when 
he lolled Mayor Cennak instead of the President." 

Mrs. Roosevelt agreed that it would be best if we examined 
the packages. 

Since the beginning of World War II the measures for 
protection of the President have been the most elaborate and 
efficient that modern science could devise, but as I look back 
on my fifty years service in the White House, I often shudder 
to recall the risks that were run in earlier years. As Chief of 
Mails, I suppose I took my share of the risks, because cranks 
are just as likely to use the postal service as any other method 
of trying to get explosives into the President's office. Follow 
ing the assassination of President McKinley, I was inclined 
to be suspicious of everything, and through the years I devel 
oped a sort of sixth sense in regard to packages that came 
unannounced in the White House mail. Sometimes I was 
right and sometimes I was wrong. 

Many a time I prodded a package with a stick while hold 
ing an improvised shield in front of myself. Many a time I 
dumped a ticking box into a bucket of oil often ruining a 


"Dear Mr. President . . " 

handsome gift clock addressed to the President. Many a time 
I wrecked the intricate model o some device sent in by an 
inventor who thought he was contributing a marvelous new 
weapon to our national defense. 

It is no longer true, but until the time of Franklin Roosevelt 
the Chief of Mails had to depend largely on instinct and good 
luck and experience in handling dangerous packages, because 
we didn't have the elaborate scientific equipment that is now 
installed in the White House mail room. About the only good 
thing I can say about the old days is that at least I never lost 
a President. 

There were, however, some occasions when I wasn't sure 
whether my luck would last. And there were times that were 
both exciting and amusing as the day in 1933 when I was 
opening President Roosevelt's mail and came to a package 
wrapped in brown paper and postmarked from Cleveland, 
Ohio. To the casual observer it would have seemed to be just 
an ordinary parcel, except perhaps for the scrawled address; 
"To the President of the United States." But to me it was an 
object of immediate suspicion. There was, I thought instinc 
tively even before I had touched it, something wrong with 
that irregular handwriting and the sender's return address: 
"Lieut. Jenkins, Cleveland Police/' When I picked up the 
package there didn't seem to be anything particularly un 
usual about it, but my suspicions were as strong as before. I 
held it out to one of my assistants. 

"Buck," I said, "what do you think?" 

He gave it a long look, shrugged, and said, Td rather you 
opened it" 

"Dear Mr. President . . " 

I went over and checked the 'lookout** file of letters that 
had come in telling us to be on the lookout for a package 
that would arrive later for the President. There was nothing 
in regard to Cleveland or Lieutenant Jenkins. I decided to try 
a method I had developed for opening suspicious packages 

The normal way to open a package is to cut along the top, 
or to untie It and loosen the folded paper. That is also the 
way to touch off a bomb in some cases if one happens to be 
inside the package. A crude bomb, for instance > might have a 
match placed so that it will be ignited by friction when the 
paper is loosened, to touch off gunpowder, which in turn will 
explode the bomb. My system was to open the suspicious 
packages in as nearly as possible the opposite manner. 

In this instance, I started cutting a hole in the bottom of 
the package. Under the brown paper I found a stiff cardboard 
box, and looped through the sides of the box I discovered 
many small copper wires. That was enough for me. Any 
package that ticked or had wires inside always got my goat 
and with good reason, too. I decided to give Lieutenant Jen 
kins's package the full-dress treatment. 

My first move was to go to the lobby outside the President's 
office, where, as I had expected, I found the inimitable 
Colonel Edmund W. Starling, chief of the White House 
Secret Service detail, resting comfortably on a divan. 

"Colonel,* I said, "I think IVe got something of interest to 
the Secret Service." 

The Colonel was not a man to pass up the dramatics in 
any situation. He sat up, tightened his rugged jaw, and nar- 


"Dear Mr. President . . /* 

rowed liis eyes at me. I told him about the package. He made 
a quick but safe decision. 

"Lef s soak it," lie said. 

We took the parcel out into the back yard o the White 
House, got a bucket of water, and dumped it in. Then we 
went about our business. Twelve hours later we got a couple 
of long sticks from the basement and fished the package out 
of the bucket Using the poles like elongated chopsticks, and 
ready to hit the deck at any moment, we began tearing the 
package to pieces. 

We smashed the box and disclosed yards of thru copper 
wire wound back and forth in an intricate pattern thorough a 
queer-looking lump in the middle of the package. We sweated 
and prodded some more, and didn't seem to be getting any 
where. Finally I threw down my pole and stepped closer to 
the mess. 

"You know what that looks like?" I asked Starling. 

The Colonel shook his head irritably, suggesting that he 
didn't much care what it looked like. He was getting good 
and tired of Lieutenant Jenkins's little parcel. 

"It looks," I said, "like a sweet potato." 

We took a closer look and it was a sweet potato. The 
Colonel personally confirmed it with a fine outburst of dis 
gust. He bundled the whole works up carefully, with the idea 
of trying to trace the sender. 

"Well," he said as he stalked away, "we made a noble 
effort however futile." 

There was nothing in the package but the wires and a 
harmless sweet potato. All efforts to trace what must have 


"Dear Mr. President . . " 

been a man with a distorted sense of humor failed. We never 
knew the answer, but it was a long time before we could see 
anything even faintly amusing in the incident. My only 
solace was that I had been right there was something wrong 
with that parcel. 

The sweet-potato "bomb" w r as just part of a day's work, but 
we never knew when we might come across something far 
more serious, and we never took chances, And we had some 
queer experiences with cranks and with some characters who 
meant real danger, especially when they followed up their 
fetters or packages with visits to the White House. 

One of the crackpot variety who crashed the White House 
back in the McKinley administration was typical of the 
mental cases who seem harmless enough but might at any 
time become fanatical and dangerous. This fellow arrived 
carrying a bundle made up of branches and weeds, with a 
Bible nestled in the center. He insisted that he had to see the 
President. If he did not, his bundle, which was really a voo 
doo creation, would bring about many horrors, including the 
ousting of Mr. McKinley and the election of a king. He could 
prevent these catastrophes, he added, by explaining to the 
President that the branches he carried represented various 
political groups, and that some of them had to be lopped oft 
The whole situation could be saved, he went on, by elimi 
nating William Jennings Bryan from politics an idea that 
would doubtless have appealed to Mr. McKinley had it been 
proposed by anyone but a voodoo doctor. 

A more amusing incident occurred when Mr. CooHdge was 
President. There was a wealthy real-estate man in the Mid- 


"Dear Mr. President . . " 

west who became well known to us because he was always 
writing to the President on important issues, about which he 
apparently knew nothing. Finally he showed up at our 
office, confident that the President would be pleased to see 

By that time I had a good idea of his eccentricities, and I 
told Everett Sanders, the President's secretary, that I didn't 
believe he should be received by Mr. Coolidge. Sanders, how 
ever, checked up and found that the caller was a wealthy 
man, and he remained on the engagement list. I then went 
around to Dick Jervis, head of the White House Secret 
Service detail, and told him it would be a good idea to keep 
his eyes open. 

The gentleman arrived and was taken to the door of the 
President's office at the appointed time. Everything was going 
fine. But as he stepped forward to shake the President's out 
stretched hand the silence was broken by the tinkling tones 
of music boxes, a cascade of pleasant but startling little tunes 
that seemed simply to emanate from the person of the visitor. 
Mr. Coolidge stepped back quickly behind his desk, aghast. 
Jervis pounced. 

When they got the fellow back in our office still without 
shaking hands with the President he began taking little 
music boxes out of every pocket of his suit. They were beau 
tiful golden boxes, which, he said proudly, cost $400 each. 
He lined them up on a desk and played them for the clerks, 
pleased with the attention he was getting. He didn't, how 
ever, get any attention from the President. Mr. Coolidge was 
not amused. 


"Dear Mr. President . . ! 9 

Another strange case centered around an old German who 
lived in New York. He wrote to the President in German on 
many occasions, and there was an intriguing childlike sim 
plicity about his letters. I always read the translations care 
fully, especially after he began telling us about his domestic 
troubles in letters that were like installments of a soap-opera 
serial He had found a young girl almost starving on the street 
and had taken her home. Apparently he mistook her gratitude 
for love, but in any event they were married. Then after a 
short time his letters said the girl had started looking around 
for youth and fun. Finally she left him. It was a terrible blow 
to the old man, and it was clear from later letters that it 
preyed on his mind constantly. His business was neglected, 
and it failed. He walked the streets. He was hungry. He was 
a bum, and he still wrote to the President about it. 

One day he appeared at the White House, and since I knew 
about his letters, I talked to him through an interpreter. He 
said he had been sitting in the park across the street, hungry 
and tired and not daring to come to see the President. He 
wandered, dazed, into a restaurant and somebody asked him 
a question. He didn't understand, but he answered "JcT and 
they brought him some ham and eggs and coffee. After eat 
ing, he got up enough nerve to come in and tell us that his 
wif e was persecuting him and he wanted tibe President to 
help him. I told him that the President had given orders that 
he was to be looked after. Following the usual routine, he 
was sent to St. Elizabeth's, as he was obviously a mental 
case by that time. He was pleased and grateful. When I went 
there later on other business, he rushed up to shake my hand 


"Dear Mr. President . . /* 

and thank me for the magnificent accommodations the Presi 
dent had given him. 

On several occasions persons who had written to the Presi 
dent and then followed up their letters with visits to the 
White House were so far off balance that they threatened to 
act violently, but we usually had police help at hand to 
subdue them. There was one Rumanian-bom citizen who 
wrote to President Hoover in regard to the handling of our 
relations with Rumania. He didn't like the way things were 
going, and he made various proposals for improvement, all 
of which were so wild that we were very much on the alert 
when he finally showed up in person. 

I arranged for assistance to be nearby when I talked to 
him. He was impatient, and wanted to see Mr. Hoover, but 
I explained that the President was so busy that an interview 
could not be arranged. I pointed out all the clerks in the office 
and said that it was their duty to relieve the President of 
some of the burdens of office. Suddenly our visitor's attitude 
changed. He said he agreed with me. He shook hands 
warmly and departed. The next week he was back. 

"I just dropped in to shake hands, 5 * he explained. We 
shook hands warmly. He was very jolly. He came in about 
once a week for several months and we shook hands. Finally, 
after a warm shake, he showed me a passport visaed for 
Rumania. He said he was going back there to see what could 
be done from that end, and I guess he did, because I never 
saw him again. 

One other intriguing case lasted for many years. President 
Theodore Roosevelt received a letter from an American 


"Dear Mr. President . . " 

woman who was married to a European Count, saying that 
the United States Ambassador at one of the European capitals 
had, because of jealousy, blocked her presentation at court. 
She wanted the Ambassador fired. She didn't get any satis 
faction, but she kept on writing long letters to the President, 
and we formed the opinion that she was suffering from some 
delusion. Anyway, nothing was done other than to refer her 
letters to the Department of State. Then one day she turned 
up at the White House and wanted to talk to the President. 
When we heard that she had arrived, we were merely 
amused, but when she came into the office we could only 
stare at her. She was one of the most beautiful women I have 
ever seen, and she was dressed as if she had just stepped 
from the pages of a fashion magazine. 

One of the President's secretaries took a look at her and 
left the lobby at a rapid pace, explaining that he was afraid 
that if he talked to her he would end up by giving her the 
United States Mint and joining the royalist party. A news 
paper reporter who knew the story of her letters refused to 
write about her, because he said he would be sure to end 
up with an editorial backing her complaint She finally de 
parted without seeing the President and without achieving 
anything but an office sensation, but we kept on getting 
letters from her for years. The Ambassador retired. Mr. 
Roosevelt was out of office and finally died. There were wars 
and revolutions. But the Countess kept right on writing to the 
President, always with the same complaint. 

We were frequently reminded that so-called crank cases 
could be full of political dynamite. One such case concerned 


"Dear Mr. President . . ." 

the unbalanced wife of a Congressman. She demanded that 
the President prosecute some absurd claim against her hus 
band, and finally had to be led, screaming and struggling, 
from the office by two policemen. She later publicly charged 
that she had been thrown out of the White House, and news 
papers all over the country published her story, permitting 
the administration's political foes to make capital of the 

The White House is always the target of so many cranks 
that it is sometimes difficult to know when the President 
might be in real danger. Crude bombs made of lead pipe 
have been found in the White House mail, but they were 
comparatively easy to detect and destroy. Sometimes, how 
ever, we were lucky enough to recognize less obvious explo 
sive packages. 

In the Hoover administration, we received a slim little 
box addressed to the President, but with no indication of the 
name of the sender. I didn't like the looks of it, and I opened 
it backward, finding a fountain pen inside. I still thought it 
was peculiar that anyone would send Mr. Hoover a fountain 
pen without identifying himself, so I put it to soak in oil. 
Later I unscrewed the ink receptacle instead of taking off the 
cap of the pen. Inside the rubber ink container was a high 
explosive. When I unscrewed the cap, I found the oil-soaked 
head of a Fourth of July sparkler and a sprinkling of powder, 
so placed that it was intended to cause an explosion when the 
cap was unscrewed. 

We were always suspicious of packages that did not carry 
the sender s name or address, and especially of gifts of candy. 


"Dear Mr. President . . " 

We could test most food packages, but candy was destroyed 
unless we could be sure of the identity of the sender and 
knew that the package had not been tampered with. I always 
worried about gifts of liquids, too, and kept only those that 
could be tested. That meant I had the sad duty of destroying 
a lot of champagne, because even with scientific methods I 
have never found a way of testing champagne without open 
ing the bottle and therefore ruining the wine. 

The number of threatening letters to the Presidents has 
had little to do with the personality of the Chief Executive. 
In bad times there is likely to be an increase, as during the 
last part of Mr. Hoovers administration. Presumably this is 
due to worries that cause more and more persons to resort to 
extreme measures. One of the common types of threatening 
letter, for instance, is from some person who states his own 
desperate economic plight and says that unless "something is 
done" to solve his personal situation he will commit an act 
of violence. 

There was a sharp renewal of crank letters after the start 
of World War II, largely sent by persons with fanatical views 
on international affairs. This trend continued after the death 
of F.D.R., and Mr. Truman received threatening letters as a 
result of intense feeling over postwar foreign developments. 
Nobody could guess which threats were the work of mere 
cranks and which might be serious, but as usual no chances 
were taken. Fortunately, we were tipped off to a lot of letters 
before they were received and the Secret Service was able to 
keep watch on the senders or to take further action if 


"Dear Mr. President . . /* 

It is not uncommon for some responsible citizen to advise 
the White House that he has learned of a threatening letter 
that is being sent to the President, or that he has heard about 
a threat to the safety of the Chief Executive. One letter in 
the nature of a warning, but perhaps merely the work of a 
crank, was forwarded to us by the mayor of a large city. It 
said that an attempt would be made on the life of President 
Truman at the Army-Navy football game. It is customary at 
the game for the President to sit on the Army side of the field 
during one half and on the Navy side of the field during the 
other half, walking across the gridiron between halves. That 
walk, the letter said, would be the last walk ever taken by 
Mr. Truman. 

The Secret Service could not relate the letter to any previ 
ous crank communications, but of course took the mot 
elaborate precautions. Men were stationed at frequent and 
strategic spots in the crowd and on the field- Mr. Truman 
crossed the gridiron between halves with a smile and a confi 
dent step, but a lot of other men close to him didn't breathe 
easy until the game was over. 

On another occasion, in the summer of 1947 I was sum 
moned back to Washington from my vacation because contro 
versy over important issues, including the Palestine question, 
had greatly increased the volume of mail to the President. I 
was rather surprised that the volume should be more than 
could be handled routinely by the office but when I got back 
I found that not all the difficulty was due to volume. Some of 
the letters received had obviously been intended to loll. 

There had been a flurry in England in June of that summer 


"Dear Mr. President . . /' 

because eight or more government officials and political 
personages tad received terrorist letters in which explosives 
were cleverly concealed. Among those who got such letters 
were Foreign Secretary Ernest Bevin, Colonial Secretary 
Arthur Creech Jones, President of the Board of Trade Sir 
Stafford Cripps, and former Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden. 
Cripps's secretary noticed that the letter he received was hot 
(police said later it was apparently about ready to explode) 
and he stuck it in water. Eden carried his letter unopened 
in his briefcase for twenty-four hours before a secretary, 
tipped off by police, found it There were two envelopes, the 
outer one about eight by six inches and cream-colored. The 
innner envelope was marked "Private and Confidential/* 
presumably in an effort to see that it was opened by the man 
to whom it was addressed. Inside the second envelope was 
powdered gelignite, a pencil battery, and a detonator ar 
ranged to explode when the envelope was opened. Police 
exploded one experimentally and said that it was powerful 
enough to kill a man. The so-called Stern gang of Palestine 
terrorists later claimed responsibility for having sent the 
letters from its "branch in Europe," The letters were post 
marked from Italy. 

The same kind of terrorist letters had been found in the 
White House mail, and as a result the staff had been handling 
all letters with great care, thus slowing up the routine. So far 
as I know none of those received in this country resulted in 
an explosion, which may have been due to the excellent sys 
tem introduced for handling the White House mail during 
the war. 


"Dear Mr. President . . " 

This system makes full use of all modern scientific methods. 
When it was installed after consultation with many experts, 
the Secret Service turned over to me a fluoroscope and an 
x-ray machine, and arranged for clerks in the receiving room 
to be trained in the technique of handling explosives. As has 
been said, all food packages, unless their origin was favorably 
known and there was no possibility of tampering, were 
ordered sent to the Food and Drug Administration labora 
tory, where scientific tests were conducted before any pack 
age was taken to the White House kitchen. Various tests 
were made, but in most cases the laboratory would try out 
the food on animals and send back a report such as the follow 
ing, dated August 20, 1947: 

"Reference is made to your letter of August 18 submitting 
for examination approximately one half bushel of peaches. 
Two peaches were fed to two monkeys with no ill effects. 
Inspection of the fruit with a hand lens revealed no evidence 
of tampering. The remaining peaches were delivered to your 
messenger today/* 

Even the food that is purchased daily for the White House 
was placed under special supervision. Secret Service men 
pick up all groceries that are ordered, and they watch the 
butcher while the meat is being cut. They then carry the food 
purchases to a special truck, lock it in, and deliver it directly 
to the kitchen. 

The general run of packages received in the mail includes a 
large number of queer ones, most of which are turned over 
to the Secret Service for possible inquiry. In running through 
my records, I find notes like these: 


"Dear Mr. President . . " 

Received Nov. 20, 1944: small package addressed to the Presi 
dent containing old labels from tin cans, old letters, and post 
cards. The Secret Service and Office of Protective Research have 
a file on the sender. 

June 23, 1947: A large letter, addressed to the President, was 
received. It contained a smoking pipe, three boxes of safety 
matches, a bunch of feathers, and three stones. 

Nov. 29, 1946: Two recordings received from New Orleans. 
The recordings give an incoherent speech pertaining to Moses, 
Representative Sol Bloom, birds, etc. 

Sept. 10, 1943: Received a parcel containing the works of five 
alarm clocks and several pieces of metal from Meridian, Miss." 

Oct 7, 1947: Received a package containing a $10 bill. Writer 
states that she heard Lincoln's letter read and thought perhaps it 
was a hint that the President needed money. 

All packages that come in the White House mail are 
examined under the fluoroscope, which shows up any dense 
material, particularly metal. If we do not know in advance 
what the package contains, any parcel containing metal, 
especially clockworks, is put under the x-ray. This may show 
sufficient detail to prove that it is harmless. But if after 
examination by the bomb detection experts it is found to be 
dangerous, the package is turned over to the Secret Service 
and placed in a specially built bomb trailer. 

The trailer looks like a huge urn, and is constructed of 
twisted wire cables and mounted on two wheels. The teavy 
cables never have been tried with an atomic bomb, but there 
is no question that they are strong enough to withstand a very 
powerful explosion. The trailer is then attached to an 
armored car, an extremely heavy vehicle built of steel and 
with portholes for machine guns. The bomb or suspected 


"Dear Mr. President . . " 

bomb is then talcen to a special testing ground, where final 
disposition is made by the Secret Service experts. The details 
of bomb disposition are the business of the Secret Service, 
and I would not want to discuss their methods in any way 
that might interefere with their operations. The disposition, 
however, is quite definite and permanent 

The routine handling of crank letters is also highly devel 
oped now, and the Secret Service is likely to become ac 
quainted with the writers in a hurry. When such a letter is 
found by one of the staff that reads the White House mail, it 
immediately goes into a special category, which includes 
any letter that is threatening or obscene, or suggests that the 
writer is mentally unbalanced. 

The reader marks it for the Secret Service and puts his own 
initials on it. It is then stamped both the envelope and the 
stationery in the dating machine, and placed in a large 
cellophane envelope without folding. 

These letters go to the Office of Protective Research, which 
is a branch of the regular Secret Service under the Treasury 
Department and has its offices in the east wing of the White 
House executive office. There each letter is photographed, 
processed, analyzed, and indexed. This means that the letter 
is checked for fingerprints (other than those of the staff 
reader, which are on file), the handwriting is studied, and a 
record is made of all the characteristics of the letter. 

About half of such letters are anonymous, hut in any event 
the characteristics of each are checked against an elaborate 
file to see whether it is a first letter or a repeater* If it is a 
first letter and if it is only mildly annoying, it is unlikely that 


"Dear Mr. President . . .** 

any action will be taken. The letter is merely filed for future 
reference. But if it is a repeater or a particularly threatening 
letter, a photostat probably will be sent to a field agent in 
the community from which it is postmarked. If the writer has 
signed his name, the Secret Service usually contacts him or 
his relatives and secures a promise (often broken) not to 
write again. 

But if the writer is anonymous, the Secret Service usually 
can chase him down, especially if he is a repeater. One man 
who had lost his job in a paper mill and wrote threatening 
letters to Mr. Hoover was trailed on an automobile trip from 
Cleveland to the West coast and back through the Northern 
states to Chicago, dropping a trail of letters all the way. He 
managed to keep one jump ahead of the agents until he got 
to Chicago, where the trail seemed to end. The Secret Service 
didn't stop, however. They checked every paper mill in tie 
area, found a man who seemed to meet their description, 
trapped him into writing a note the handwriting of which 
matched that of the threatening letters, and arrested 

Perhaps three or four letters a week are received at the 
White House from persons who either directly threaten the 
President or have heard dangerous talk against him or who 
say they are in such desperate straits that unless the President 
helps them they will ME themselves. In such instances, tele 
grams are sent at once to the nearest Secret Service field 
agent, giving him full information, or referring to previous 
letters if the writer is already on file and therefore well known 
to the field agent The agent then moves in with the aid of 


"Dear Mr. President . . /* 

postal inspectors, local authorities, and whatever other 
agencies are available. 

Of course sometimes the Secret Service fails to locate an 
anonymous correspondent. One woman in Santa Monica, Cal 
ifornia, wrote a number of letters to President Truman. They 
were literate and neatly written letters, but they threatened 
Mr. Truman with various unpleasant fates. The woman 
seemed likely to be harmless, but she was a persistent soul, 
and the Secret Service hunted her in vain for months. Never 
did find her. Or at least they hadn't found her up to the 
summer of 1948, when I decided that fifty-one years was 
enough time for one man to devote to opening the President's 
mail. There'd been quite a few times between 1897 and 1948 
when I was a bit fearful that somebody would retire me 
involuntarily, but in the end I made it under my own power. 
I had been planning for some time to retire and to live in 
California, but I found it difficult to break away from the 
scenes that had been so familiar for so many years and from the 
many person who were such loyal friends and coworkers. The 
evolution of the White House mail-room staff had been slow, 
and had proceeded partly by trial and error, but by the time 
of World War II it was an excellent and efficient group, and 
gradually I found myself in a strictly supervisory position. 
The atmosphere inside our office was pleasant and the work 
went along smoothly, with ten skiled clerks from the city post 
office and twelve employees who read the mail and performed 
other duties. 

On the fiftieth anniversary of my service in the White 
House I was surprised by the staff, who arranged a party for 


"Dear Mr. President . . ?* 

me in the office. In the morning President Truman had sent 
for me and reminded me that the date was March 26, 1947, 
and that I had become the first person on the White House 
rolls to complete fifty years of continuous service. I knew it 
before the President told me, but it was pleasant to hear him 
say it and to have him call in the photographers when he 
presented me with a photograph inscribed: "Kindest regards 
and congratulations on his fiftieth year of efficient service to 
Ira Smith from Harry Truman." I didn't know, however,, 
what was waiting for me back at the office. When I returned 
there, I found an assembly of secretaries, officials, workers, 
and friends, and we all had a very merry time. 

When I officially requested retirement later early in 1948 
I said that I intended to live in California, and we planned 
to leave Washington for good in the summer of that year. 
When this became known, there were lots of friends who 
wanted to give farewell parties for us, and for a while I doubt 
that the Government got its money's worth out of me at the 
office, because I was always gadding about. 

Several days before my departure from the office for good, 
I noticed there was considerable secretive scurrying-around 
on the part of the staff, and sure enough on Saturday there 
was a really wonderful party. One of our messengers., calling 
himself Piccolo Pete, had organized an orchestra that pro 
vided the music, and about two hundred old and new friends 
came into the offices, which had been gaily decorated for the 

There was a buffet luncheon and a bit of ceremonies, over 
which Bill Hassett, one of the President's secretaries, presided 


"Dear Mr. President . . ! 9 

with great charm. In behalf of the office personnel, he pre 
sented me with numerous gifts, including a traveling bag and 
a deep-sea fishing outfit. There also was a book in which each 
member of the White House staff had written and to which 
the President added a few words. I think everybody attended 
the party except the President, who was down on Chesapeake 
Bay for the week end, but he sent me a letter which said: 

Dear Mr. Smith, 

A man who has served his government faithfully and well 
through more than fifty-one years has indeed earned honorable 
retirement. I cannot allow you to leave our White House staff 
without this word of appreciation for the efficient manner in 
which you have discharged the exacting duties which have fallen 
to you as Chief of Mails. 

We have all benefitted from your expert handling of the dis 
tribution of the enormous volume of mail which is the daily quota 
at the White House. May I express my particular thanks for the 
uncanny way in which you have been able to segregate my per 
sonal and family letters from the great mass of correspondence 
which has gone through your hands day after day. 

Hope you enjoy life to the fullest where the fishing is good. 

Very sincerely yours, 
Harry Truman 

I thought that was pretty nice of Mr. Truman, especially 
that part about the fishing. I think that sometimes a man has 
to live in the White House for a while to realize how impor 
tant fishing is to the enjoyment of life to the fullest 

I was pleased, too, when Mrs. Ethel Haberkorn, who had 
joined our staff in 1933 and later became my assistant, took 
over as Chief of Mails upon my departure. I knew that she 
had ability and initiative and would do a good job. I worked 


"Dear Mr. President . . ." 

up until noon of my last day, but there were newspaper and 
radio and television people all over the office and I guess I 
didn't really get much done before we got into our automo 
bile and headed for California. 

It gave me a nice, warm feeling, leaving the White House 
that way instead of having it suggested that it was time to go, 
which, when you come to think of it, is the thing that any 
President normally has to face sooner or later. It was espe 
cially pleasant to receive Mr. Truman^s congratulations and to 
be the guest of honor at the farewell parties, and to be re 
minded that I'd witnessed from the White House about one- 
third of our country's entire history. 

I hadn't seen much of Southern California since I was a 
boy and lived on the ranch in the mountains near Santa 
Ynez, but I'm getting another look at it now. There are thir 
teen lemons on the little tree I planted in the yard behind 
my house at Santa Barbara and next year the oranges should 
be large enough to eat. 

There is only one rule that is enforced at our house these 
days. My wife has to open all the mail. 


Ira Smith's White House career began with a 
telegram that interrupted him in the middle of a 
poker game at home in Ohio. It ended 51 years 
later with a personal letter of appreciation from 
Harry Truman. The years between were spent at 
the strangest job in America, handling the amaz 
ing letters and gifts that Americans send their 
President . . . letters about wives who have strayed 
and crops that have failed; fountain pens filled 
with nitroglycerine; bedspreads and live hogs; 
10-gallon bottles of beer and threats of assassi 
nation. His revealing story is not only about the 
Presidents he knew and served, but about the 
American people themselves . . . the outspoken, 
unknown, but mighty men and women who are 
the American public, and who write to criticize, 
praise, cuss out, or just to pass the time of day 
chatting with their distinguished servant in the 

1 02 994 

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